The Montreal Massacre Remembered at CanStage
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The Montreal Massacre Remembered at CanStage


December Man
, currently playing at CanStage‘s Berkeley Street Theatre, is not a happy play. But it’s won a Governor General’s Award, so you know going in that it’s going to be about a depressing moment in Canadian history. In this case, the moment in question is the 1989 Montreal Massacre. Rather than dramatizing the events themselves (which would be pretty tasteless), The December Man tells the personal story of one family and how the massacre affected them. The play opens on a middle-aged French-Canadian couple (played by Nicola Lipman and Brian Dooley) making preparations for an unclear event. Eventually, you realize the two have made a suicide pact and are planning to asphyxiate themselves through carbon monoxide poisoning. The rest of the piece plays backwards, Memento-style, each successive scene taking place previous to the one that preceded it. Gradually, you come to understand that the couple’s son, Jean (Jeff Irving), was present at the massacre and, overcome with survivor guilt, also killed himself. The couple become unable to cope with life without their son and decide to join him, the mother planning on meeting Jean again in Heaven, the father more skeptical.
This is heavy subject matter, and the cast do admirable work with the piece’s darker themes. Having the show played backwards heightens the tragedy of the situation: you are aware of what a normal, relatively happy family they were before and how much they lost. However, it also means that the most exciting scene is the first one. The scene where the couple prepare for their joint-suicide is captivating, poignant and at moments darkly funny. The rest of the piece never quite lives up to this. And, unlike a work like Memento where the backwards narrative allows for an exciting new way to reveal plot twists, there are few surprises in The December Man; nothing happens after the first scene that the scene itself hasn’t already implied. Still, the solid cast make for an engaging evening, even if the script’s construction doesn’t always lend itself to high drama.