Photo: Andrew Alexander
We tend to think of the phrases “collateral damage” and “PTSD” only in military terms. “The December Man” by Colleen Murphy that received the Governor General’s literary award for drama, currently running in a terrific production in the NAC Studio, examines them in the context of a university shooting.
In Montreal in 1989, 14 female engineering students were gunned down by a misogynist after he had sent the male students out of the room. Rather than re-tell the grim story of the shooting, the playwright focuses on a male student who was there. He suffers from extreme survivor’s guilt, which has a disastrous effect on his working class parents.
The story is told in reverse chronology and all the production elements work smoothly together to clearly tell this powerful story, beginning with the strong cast. Jean, the student, is believably and remarkably athletically played by Kayvon Kelly. Kate Hennig plays Jean’s mother Kathleen, a devout housewife who dreams of her son’s bright future and has only the church to turn to for help. Benoit, Jean’s father, is played by the always excellent Paul Rainville who finds some nice moments of humor. He paints a moving portrait of an uneducated working man trying desperately to understand and help his troubled son.
Amy Keith has designed a living room and house as an open metal framework that has the feeling of a cage, but also allows the outside world to intrude. All her props and costumes help tell the story. Andrea Lundy’s creative lighting and Michael Leon’s delicate sound support the production style. Whether the violent music used for the set changes is his choice or the director’s it works very well.
Director Sarah Garton Stanley’s staging is extremely creative and fits very well with the over-all style. Her excellent work with the cast shows in the light touch in the scene with Benoit and Jean where Jean explains his model in terms of structural integrity and load capacity. The play’s points are never belabored and she’s pulled all the elements into a cohesive whole.
To see “The December Man” as being about violence against women is to limit its broad scope. After so many school shooting in the US, the tragedy in Norway and other acts of violence, this play is not just about what happened in Montreal but unfortunately has become universal. Of course we mourn the victims, but we also need to think of the survivors. This is a timely reminder that so-called collateral damage can be caused by individual acts of violence, not just drone strikes. This powerful play only runs through November 28, so get there if you possibly can. It’s well worth an extra effort.