Review: Biographies of the Dead and Dying

Writing can be hell.  Just ask Alice.  Or perhaps we should really be asking playwright Andrew Templeton who provides an intense psychological exploration of the hell a writer must go through for their craft sometimes in Biographies of the Dead and Dying currently playing at the Havana Theatre.

Biographies of the Dead and DyingWriter Alice (Heather Lindsay), seeking inspiration for her second novel, visits a haunted house owned by Jack (Simon Driver) on Vancouver Island, looking to write about the ghost who is said to live there.  Problem is, Alice has a few problems of her own and rather than finding the inspiration for her book she claims to be looking for, we watch horrified as she ultimately spins out of control towards the decision to take her own life.

Both Lindsay and Driver are wholly committed to the roles they play here.  Lindsay is at times neurotic, melancholy, paranoid, crazy, and even a little sexy.  She easily layers each of these states in her downward spiral to provide a believable, multi-dimensional character which is not an easy feat in 75 minutes.

Driver comes out the starting gates full speed ahead with a nervous intensity as homeowner Jack, obsessing over Alice as the famous writer and those darn stains that he can’t quite get rid of no matter how hard he scrubs.  Driver also plays double-duty here as Alice’s ex-husband Jonathon to good effect, but for me it is in the scenes in which he underscored Alice’s descent through his bizarre nightmare-like movements that had me most captivated (kudos obviously to Director Jeremy Waller for this as well).

Director Waller does a good job moving us through Templeton’s story but I did find myself losing interest as things stalled in the last 15 minutes or so.  By this time we know where Alice is headed and as she makes that ultimate life (or death) decision, we wait for her to catch up to us.  I’m still trying to figure out if it is playwright or director that let us down here.

Emma Hendrix’s sound design is at times exceedingly well done although I did find an abruptness at the end of a couple of scenes that made me take notice (I’m not sure if these were intentional or glitches on the night of the show).  Of particular note here though was the repetitive “heart beat” of some of the music that managed to get just under my skin adding to the tension that was building on stage.

I’m glad Biographies of the Dead and Dying is back as it was one of the shows that was on my must-see list at the Fringe Festival this year but to which I did not have an opportunity to get to because it was staged outside Granville Island.  For any of you Fringe goers that had the same excuse and did not get to see this show, this is your chance!

But don’t let the fact this was a Fringe play scare you though, let the play do that instead.

With all shows of this encore run “pay-what-you-can” you would be hard pressed to find a better entertainment deal right now.  I applaud Craning Neck and Machine Fair for making this show eminently accessible, especially during the holidays, and one I hope will help ensure them an audience.

3 1/2 of 5 StarsBiographies of the Dead and Dying
December 16 – 20, 8pm; Saturday matinee December 19 at 2pm
Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
Tickets for all performances will be Pay What You Can, to reserve please call 778 896 2844.
Visit www.machinefair.ca or www.craningneck.org for more information.

To cure herself of writer’s block, an author decides to rent a haunted house in a remote location. Her goal: to write the biography of a ghost. Instead of curing her of writer’s block, the author finds herself in an intense relationship with the missing and the dead. A haunting story with dark humour and twisted love, it is a spare exploration of the power we have to create and destroy.

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