(ig)Noblesse Oblige

4½ Truths from Pi Provocateur Thomas McKechnie

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Rather his authority on the subject comes from his first-hand experience as a Depressive – what, in Buddhist parlance, might be called a Tathāgata, “One Who Has Walked the Walk.” Medical science, McKechnie explains, is “all about what’s provable, measurable.” Tonight, though, we begin where quantifiable science ends, a purely anecdotal take on Depression (“in high rhetorical style” he promises with a flourish of his long tendril-fingers).

Whereupon we’re off to the races. His diction ratchets up to triple speed as he rattles off accounts of social frustrations, lost love, umbrageous inferences, paralytic shyness, self-flagellation/laceration, near-catatonic lethargy and suicidal ideation – all delivered in rapid-fire carnie barker style.

The descriptions are eloquent – horrific, yet oddly lyrical and evocative. Some trigger an unnerving shock of recognition – we’ve been there, or at least thereabouts, some of the time. Most or all of the time, for many in the audience, the post-show talkback reveals, whether as mental illness sufferers or caregivers.

It is for such people – and we are all such people, as far as McKechnie is concerned, all in need of therapy – that he has worked up this script as a performance work. “It has to be delivered live before a real-time audience,” according to director Michael Reinhart, rather than “as a pamphlet or a YouTube or whatever.”

McKechnie worked up the script as a playwriting student at Toronto’s Soulpepper Academy during an interlude when he was too depressed to function in his day job as a bicycle courier. Much of the time he could barely get out of bed, but in the interludes when he could, the words came in a torrent, practically of their own accord, he recounts. “All I had to do was write down what I was experiencing right there and then.”

“So many words,” Reinhart sighs. “How to bring it all visually and symbolically onstage in real-time?” The duo, along with scenographer Claire Hill, worked up a series of brilliantly intuitive solutions. All the props get called into play.

Within the first few minutes, McKechnie recruits the eggs as puppets enact the phoney banter of a spuriously upbeat party, only to wind up smashing them onto the stage in digust – all but one last egg, representing presumably his solitary self, which he enshrines in an egg cup and adorns with an anhedonic unemoticon .

As he rattles off the universe of particulars which taste to him “like ash,” this blank cartoon face starts to seem scarier than a death’s head. It’s almost a relief when, by now spattered with egg slime, he starts rolling on the floor amid scattered books and coffee cups.

He stacks all the props and pedestals into a “house of cards” tower on the tabletop, all resting precariously on the last surviving egg in its egg cup. And then he launches into a sliced-and-diced version of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, rendered in roundelay with his own recorded voice. He likes the idea of “quietus with a bare bodkin,” but doesn’t share Hamlet’s “perchance to dream” qualms about an afterlife. What he can’t abide, though, is being posthumously boxed in a category “suicide,” with all his “loved ones” bemoaning “if only I’d known” and “what could I have done?”

Answer: nothing except perhaps to puncture a hole in him. Not that he doubts their love, but his illness leaves no room for them. He refuses to even call it by its clinical name anymore – just “It,” to underscore that it’s a distinctive, separate thing apart from himself. And It has built up so much pressure that it needs a hole to escape.

Or maybe a deep dive. He grabs the bucket and repeatedly plunges face-first into it, each dunk longer than the last, legs twitching in a rictus until it seems he won’t come up again after all.

But then he does and wades up into the audience, flayed, bedraggled and dripping, to announce that “the rain has passed, as is the way of rain. All we can do is dress accordingly.”

 

  

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