Behind the Curtain

Caught in the Gravitational Pull with Dale Hayes & Max Mehran

by Caleigh Crow

“It’s a story about a family in crisis,” Dale Hayes, director, explains. “The matriarch of the family and title character, Bernice, has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease and the family is in the grips of it. What’s interesting is that each one of her children is dealing with their mother’s diagnosis very differently so I think it gives a good overall view of what families really go through.”

Families in crisis are a specialty of d² productions. Their last two shows were Jordan Tannahill’s Late Company, Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box. d² productions’ latest is The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble by Beth Graham. While the characters in these plays have wildly varying experiences, the common threads are navigating togetherness, grief, and fear experienced as a family. When I ask Dale why these themes appeal to her, she answers, “We try to find plays that means something to us. They don’t always must have a message, but it has to strike a chord within us.”

Bernice is mother of three children: two daughters and a son, Peter, who is much younger than his sisters. Max Mehran plays the role of Peter, the quietest of the bunch. He “tries to avoid taking part in conversations, but inside is bubbling,” Max says. “He has many secrets that allows us to discover things about him as the play goes.”

Peter, reconciling his timid presence among three strong women, “is still in the room, he’s still there, but without speaking out, generally, he shows support in a look, or with a hand gesture.”

He describes his character as very subtle, but the actor “like[s] this kind of subtlety in theatre; it makes for a very exciting role.”

“It’s the journey too of discovering who the character is,” Dale adds, “you find out a lot about yourself.”

As we talk, I get to bear witness to actor/director banter – one of my favorite things about this work, and often where I find the most insightful exchanges. Dale regularly has a director’s perspective on Max’s experience, and vice-versa.

When I ask Max how Peter is coping with his mother’s illness, he replies, “He’s respectful and private.” It seems that it is “inside that’s where the battle happens, and it shows in his behaviour later.”

“I think the audience is going to ask the same question,” Dale says, “Peter knows the answer, but we don’t, and that mystery makes the story that much more engaging.”

Dale reassures me that the strength of the play is in its realism, and that a heavy subject matter doesn’t preclude displaying humor as a natural coping mechanism during times of trouble. “Humor helps the play progress,” she explains. “It’s a tool. In real life we always find humor even in the most tragic situations, it can be something silly, but we do find the humor in it and because this play portrays life, the humor is there, and it works.”

The entire team at d² productions presents a unified front when tackling the issues at the heart of the play. They are constantly emailing each other articles, research, statistics, and even poems to inspire each other. Dedication to the story follows them off the stage, and the hope is that the play will engender conversation around Alzheimer’s Disease. To that end, d² productions is hosting talkbacks after select performances to encourage the audience to share the experiences with experts and other community representatives such as filmmaker Christopher Wynn, one of the directors behind the documentary Much Too Young. The theatre company has also benefitted from the support of the Alzheimer’s Society of Montreal and Jann Arden, who has chronicled her experiences with her mother’s illness in her book, Feeding My Mother, and on Facebook.

“We want people to walk away from our shows entertained and willing to continue a conversation about what we’re doing,” Dale says. “There’s nothing more powerful than having an audience member be so taken by what we’ve done that they go home and phone their mother or hug their child or talk to their sister they haven’t talked to in two years.” She adds that, “theatre-making is powerful, and we understand the responsibility we have; it’s important work and we take it really seriously.”

At the heart of the show is the idea that every moment and every life is precious because it’s all so deliciously fleeting. The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble encourages gratitude for the time we’re given, to forgive and forget, and in this case, to forgive forgetting. “You can’t win the fight against Alzheimer’s,” Dale pauses. “it is all about enjoying those last moments.”

You can see The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble at MainLine Theatre from April 18 – 29. For a more detailed schedule and for tickets please click here.