Directed by Patrick New
Produced by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.
At Angel Island, Chicago
“It’s not your fault.” -Kathleen
Lingering effects of a massacre are vividly depicted
With so many school and work place shootings in America (and Canada) over the last twenty or so years, we shake our heads, then put them out of our minds as a survival mechanism. In the 1989 Montreal Massacre 14 college women were murdered at the Ecole Polytechnique of the University of Montreal. Marc LaPine, a woman-hating gunman, entered the school, divided male hostages from females, and proceeded to systematically execute the “feminists” he thought had ruined his life. One of the men let go by LaPine was Jean Fournier (Rudy Galvan), an engineer student. Jean, now three years later, still has lingering effects from that traumatic experience.
Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy opens THE DECEMBER MAN at a time when Jean’s parents decide to take drastic action to rid themselves of the pain from losing their son. Cleverly told backwards in time, we see how the Fourniers are ordinary working class folks who have most of the urban life expectations expressed in their little foibles and normal eccentricities. We laugh at their genuine ‘normalcy.’ Their life, especially Kathleen’s, revolve around their son Jean’s potential as he studies at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
What fuels this tense 90 minute one-act is director Patrick New’s pacing, which evokes a suspenseful mystery element to the drama. What happened to Jean at the school? Was he an offender or a victim? Why has it been so difficult for Jean to adjust to life after the massacre? As we gradually learn the effects of the event on Jean, we empathize on how hard it can be for simple folks to aid their children after suffering major trauma.
As we witness the unraveling of Jean’s life and the increasing frustration from the parents, the suspense moves toward more tragedy. We see how internalized Jean’s survivor’s guilt has become that, over time, it paralyzes him. He dreams of saving all the women; he learns karate to be ready for another attack. His nightmares increase in depth and intensity as the realization of his helplessness and his guilt becomes self-loathing cowardice. Despite hearing; “It’s not you fault,” Jean’s guilt eventually overwhelms him. Kathleen and Benoit (Mike Speller) despair as they fail to know what to do to help Jean through his daemons.
The acting is first-rate here. Barbara Roeder Harris and Mike Speller are believable as the simple folks incapable of aiding their son. But Rudy Galvan’s amazingly internalized depiction of guilt and despair was most effective. Galvan does his finest work in this role.
The December Man is a riveting, suspenseful drama on courage, survival, heroism and despair. Survival guilt’s effects all it touches, and it is vividly and honestly presented here. This work is a theatrical gem featuring a tight script, wonderfully effective direction, and three truthfully powerful performances. This is yet another production that showcases the vibrancy of Chicago storefront theatre.
At Angel Island, 735 W. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL, call 866-468-3401, tickets $25 – $20 students/seniors, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 90 minutes without an intermission, through June 28, 2015