Daniel Brooks’ ‘Other People’ is a moving meditation on the endgame
Canadian Stage/Other People, written and performed by Daniel Brooks, directed by Brendan Healy, Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, from March 20 to April 3. Tickets here.
Actor, playwright, director, Daniel Brooks is one of the great men of the theater in Canada, whose reputation extends far beyond our borders. Brooks, 63, is also dying, having been diagnosed with end-stage four lung cancer (not smoking, he assures us).
Her new solo show The other people is defiant, courageous, daring – use whatever word you want – to face death head-on, but above all, it’s filled with wry wit and self-deprecating humor. As an audience member, I felt privileged to be there – to be allowed into Brooks’ inner circle, so to speak.
The structure of the play is built around Brooks’ ten-day stay at a retreat in Montebello, Quebec, who practices Noble Silence through meditation; in other words, no conversation or communication of any kind. Brooks went to this retreat because he wants to “die well” – his words, not mine. He wants to get rid of this deadly winding up in peace, especially for his two daughters, and he thinks mediation will be the way.
The other people in the title are his retreat companions. Because he can’t talk to them, he assigns them names, like Red Crocs and Fast Walker, and much of the room is consumed by his obsession with them.
Brooks is waiting for the “tingle” that means you’ve fully embraced meditation, but it takes time. As a result, because he cannot dive deep into mediation, his mind is very active, and The other people is filled with the various places where his thoughts wander and the resulting ideas he feels free to reveal.
Brooks’ playwright is Daniel MacIvor, another great Canadian theater man and one of his well-known collaborators. No wonder Other People’s script is so creative with these two brilliant minds working on the words.
There are a few big lines like, the perks of having terminal cancer means his daughters answering his phone calls and his friends picking up dinner tabs. Because “death is busy,” Brooks recites, with some degree of irony, an amusing list of all the phrases that represent death, like kicking the bucket, etc. Brooks hates the words “bucket list” so much that he just wants to “vomit in the bucket”.
Director Brendan Healy may have overstated Brooks’ nervous energy, but movement coach Adam Lazarus was on hand to bring realism to the dance and prance her on the run. Brooks brings a lot of humor to this physical aspect of the piece, so we feel that helps lighten the mood.
Kimberly Purtell’s set is a simple raised platform with a chair and screen behind for occasional projections, like an image of Brooks’ lungs. The purpose of the chair is that meditators who find it difficult to sit cross-legged on the floor can use a chair.
Purtell’s lighting for Brooks is a warm glow, but there are several occasions when the audience lights come on, when Brooks comes back to reality. It all seems like a very fitting setting for a man talking about the endgame, with the ambient sound design of Thomas Ryder Payne’s background noises.
What Brooks takes away from the retreat is the guru’s urge to find “equanimity” so he can live well now. When we last see him, he’s standing perfectly still as the lights go out.
The other people is an exceptional theatrical experience that you will never forget.
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