Getting to Room Temperature and Mouthpiece at the undercurrents festival

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Categories: Undercurrents 2016

Robert Bockstael in Getting to Room Temperature by Arthur Milner. Photo: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Robert Bockstael in Getting to Room Temperature by Arthur Milner. Photo: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Getting to Room Temperature
A Room Temperature Collective Production (Ottawa)

What do we do now? That’s playwright Arthur Milner’s thorny question in Getting to Room Temperature which asks whether we have the right to die – and explores the roles and responsibilities of others in that death – when we’re not terminally ill but, being old, have simply reached the end of life as we choose to live it.

The provocative one-man show, told in storytelling/lecture fashion, is a world premiere. Directed by Milner, it features Robert Bockstael telling what is, essentially, the playwright’s own story.
Some time ago, Milner’s 93-year-old mother Rose, who was not gravely ill, asked her doctor to help her die. He refused. That got Milner exploring the murky politics of old age and dying in contemporary society. He asks us to consider a lot. Some of it, including the financial burden on families and societies of a growing number of lingering elders kept alive by incessant medical intervention, targets our sense of right and wrong.
Milner, through the accessible voice of Bockstael, wraps his questions in warm anecdotes about his family, sprinkles the show with humour, and lovingly depicts his vital, opinionated mother whose life is slowly limited by aging even as her son’s inquiry into dying expands to take in ever-larger ethical and personal territory.

The inquiry, says Milner/Bockstael, is “a conversation I’m having with myself. I’m trying to figure it out.”

With the Liberal government struggling to draft legislation based on last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision about doctor-assisted suicide for severely ill adults, and with countless Boomers rocketing down the road to old age, that larger conversation about voluntary death is one we’d better all have. Milner’s show is a good start.

 

Mouthpiece
A Quote Unquote Collective Production (Toronto)

Accurately billed as an “inspection of contemporary feminism,” the wildly inventive, Dora Award-winning Mouthpiece is about voice — specifically the voice, still stoppered when it’s considered too loud, too strident, too threatening, of women.
Creators/performers Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, wearing white bathing suits and with just a bathtub and microphone as props, give us a day in the life of a woman preparing for her mother’s funeral and simultaneously searching for her own voice in a world deaf to it.

The duo uses a cappella harmonies and dissonance, by turns wrenchingly beautiful and painful, words, and lithe physicality to portray a woman divided by social expectation (look good but not too good, speak softly but also take your place in the world) and the universal hunger just to be oneself.

The show is funny, shrewd, constantly evolving. Directed by Nostbakken and with James Bunton’s remarkable sound design as almost a second character, it also needs polishing. Lines are occasionally inaudible because of too-rapid delivery. Anger and frustration at second-class citizenry means the show’s polemical side sometimes distances rather than engages. There’s a repeated bit involving two male “volunteers” from the audience which is overly obvious the first time and annoying the second.
But ignore the missteps. This show says important things.

undercurrents continues until Feb. 20. Tickets & information: Arts Court Theatre box office, 613-765-5555, undercurrentsfestival.ca


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