Local actor Jackie Minns hadn’t planned on doing a play this year. Grieving her close brother, who died of cancer nearly a year ago, the islander had other things on her mind.
But then came Try to Remember, “the story of a life in search of an end,” a play premiering at the Pal Studio Theatre September 10 as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.
Using film, dance, comic and dramatic scenes, the play tells the story of a woman with end-stage dementia, Minns’ Millie, her husband Mike (David C. Jones) and their son David.
“It’s a really tender, tender and moving story,” says Minns. “R. David Stephens who wrote the play was really conscious of wanting the audience to experience the struggle that the family followed…even though Millie is the one acutely suffering from the dementia.”
Stephens is the playwright, director and the son of the real-life Millie and Mike. He plays himself in Try to Remember.
“It’s really how it affects how the family and how the son navigate with [dementia],” says Minns. “Which makes me think that it’s really accessible. A lot of people can relate to having people with this disease.
“It’s very raw, very real and at the same time, it elevates it to a bit of a surreal kind of tone, helping bring levity.”
Minns says that the play moves from images of the family, the parents when they were younger, interspersed with more traditional scenes between family members and interpretive dance to tell stories of where the characters are mentally and spiritually.
The play follows the journey to right near the end of Millie’s life.
“David has dubbed it, ‘a life in search of an end’ because so much of the state that she’s in, at the very end of her life, is that comatose state,” explains Minns. “So there’s a very poignant look at euthanasia and that option and [how] it’s not available for people with dementia.”
(While Canada legalized assisted death in 2016, there’s no capacity for advanced directives for inducing death.)
“We’re left with that question of how can we usher people out of this life, who are in that state, with dignity,” says Minns.
She says that the play is sad but there’s some humour and hope.
“There’s a sense of healing that comes from what the playwright wants to say and wants to convey about being alive and having lived a full life and what’s involved in moving on,” says Minns.
She’s dedicated the show to her mother, who had dementia, and her recently passed brother.
“This just was the perfect little project to come along to help me channel or give voice to death and the reality of it,” says Minns. She notes that, though we’re changing as a society, we don’t talk about death much but the more we talk about it, the easier it is to navigate.
The play runs just under an hour. It premiered September 10 at 8 p.m. and runs until Sept. 15. Check here for show details.