One-man play com­ing to Shel­burne July 15

Get­ting to Room Tem­per­a­ture tack­les fear of death with hu­mour, sen­si­tiv­ity

South Shore Breaker - - LOCAL - SUE DESCHENE sde­sch­ene@east­link.ca

Get­ting to Room Tem­per­a­ture ad­dresses the com­plex is­sue of dy­ing with dig­nity.

But if this one-man play sounds mor­bid, Robert Bock­stael in­sists it’s any­thing but.

Bock­stael, whose many film, stage and tele­vi­sion cred­its in­clude the ’90s TV se­ries North of 60, stars in this one-man play, writ­ten, pro­duced and di­rected by Arthur Mil­ner. The play chron­i­cles Mil­ner’s emo­tional jour­ney while com­ing to terms with his mother’s end-of-life wishes.

In the play, Bock­stael por­trays Mil­ner re­flect­ing on his own life and the lives of his par­ents. Dur­ing a doc­tor’s visit, Mil­ner’s 93-year-old mother asked her doc­tor to help her die.

When the doc­tor re­fused, Mil­ner’s mother turned to her son. “She had re­ally found her­self fail­ing,” re­calls Bock­stael. “She re­ally felt that her time was up. She said, ‘I don’t need this any­more.’”

Mil­ner’s mother asked to travel to Switzer­land so that she could un­dergo as­sisted sui­cide. Mil­ner agreed to look into it, but strug­gled with his con­flict­ing thoughts and emo­tions.

“(The play) is the story of his jour­ney through this process of dis­cov­ery, about what the sit­u­a­tion is in this coun­try with as­sisted dy­ing,” Bock­stael says.

While this might sound like a deeply sad or up­set­ting story, Bock­stael is quick to point out that hu­mour is ever-present through­out the play.

“Arthur is a very funny writer. He has a very keen in­sight into the hu­man con­di­tion. There’s no holds barred, as far as laugh­ter is con­cerned. Some evenings, with some au­di­ences, I feel a bit like a standup comic up there. A lot of the laugh­ter is of ac­knowl­edg­ment. Ev­ery­one has com­mon­al­ity with this.”

After the show, a ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion is held, of­ten with spe­cial guests present. “On av­er­age, 75 per cent or more (of the au­di­ence) stay and talk,” Bock­stael says. “We have had some of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple, as a group, with peo­ple telling their sto­ries to the group.”

Death is shrouded in fear in our mod­ern-day so­ci­ety, where life can be pro­longed be­yond a per­son’s wishes, and dy­ing is not ever-present in most peo­ple’s lives. The play opens up a safe place for peo­ple to speak about the sub­ject.

“We cel­e­brate youth, but we don’t cel­e­brate age and wis­dom any­more. We’re kind of be­com­ing ageists and so we hide our el­ders away and we ware­house them in th­ese places for other peo­ple to take care of them,” Bock­stael re­flects.

“Whereas just a gen­er­a­tion ago, we would take our par­ents into our homes and take care of them un­til they died. And so we were face-to-face with our own mor­tal­ity and ev­ery­thing that goes along with it. Now ev­ery-

one’s afraid of all that.”

Get­ting to Room Tem­per­a­ture ad­dresses th­ese fears head-on. “We are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to know their own mind be­fore this stuff gets to the point where they can no longer speak for them­selves,” Bock­stael says. “It’s a re­ally im­por­tant dis­cus­sion. A lot of peo­ple are afraid of it but when they do get into the theatre, they re­al­ize there’s noth­ing scary go­ing on there and we’re all hav­ing a good time.

“Arthur is a tremen­dous sto­ry­teller, so it’s a very com­pelling se­ries of sto­ries that he tells in a re­ally lovely way. It’s a very en­joy­able evening out, as well as a lively dis­cus­sion of cur­rent events.”

The self-pro­duced show pre­miered in Mon­treal a few years ago and has had runs in Toronto, Ot­tawa and across the coun­try. But get­ting the­atres to host the play has been chal­leng­ing be­cause of its sub­ject mat­ter, Bock­stael believes.

Julie Stewart, best known for her star­ring role in the Cana­dian TV se­ries Cold Squad, worked with Bock­stael on North of 60. Stewart is friends with both Bock­stael and Mil­ner.

After Stewart moved to Shel­burne, she came up with the idea of bring­ing Get­ting to Room Tem­per­a­ture to Shel­burne.

The re­sult: Get­ting to Room Tem­per­a­ture is com­ing to Shel­burne on Sun­day, July 15. The play starts at 7 p.m. in the Christ Church Parish Hall, lo­cated at 29 Ann St. in Shel­burne. Tick­ets cost $15 at the door and $12 in ad­vance.

To buy tick­ets, con­tact Stewart at 416-802-4471 or sailon­stew­art@gmail.com.

Derek Price

Robert Bock­stael is shown in a scene from Get­ting to Room Tem­per­a­ture, com­ing to Shel­burne’s Christ Church Parish Hall at 7 p.m. on Sun­day, July 15. The slide in the back­ground shows play­wright Arthur Mil­ner’s mother, Rose.

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