JUNE 2024 | Volume 240


Production image

Genevieve Fleming, Jay Clift. Photo credit Sarah Race Photography.

by Enda Walsh
Pi Theatre
The Cultch Vancity Culture Lab
June 13-23
$38 or 604-251-1363

Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s Medicine is a wild, surreal, disturbing look at mental illness and the actor’s psyche—or at least the psyches of two actors hired to provide entertainment and therapy for one patient in the facility. Richard Wolfe’s Pi Theatre production, the Canadian premiere, stages a series of remarkable theatrical tours de force on a very busy stage with a couple of the strongest performances of the year.

Jay Clift is John, the patient, who wanders around the stage looking as if he’s about to be executed. David Roberts’ set includes the remains of some kind of party, a curtained booth where John sits and speaks into a microphone—or hears voiceovers of himself speaking with someone. Centre-stage is a large booth with windows, a panopticon from which all the action on the stage might be observed.The two actors use this booth to change in and out of Donnie Tejani’scostumes. There’s also a table with electronic equipment and in the upstage corner a drum set. Drummer Stephen Lyons walks in and out of the scene, drumming sometimes randomly, sometimes in accompaniment, barely registering what he sees and never commenting on it.

The actors are both named Mary. Mary 2 (Genevieve Fleming) dominates Mary 1 (Nyiri Karakas) and, ultimately, John. In fact, Mary 2 seems much sicker than John might ever be. She sees Mary 1 as a would-be competitor and brutalizes her. Her sadistic behavior towards John is less explicable. Fleming delivers a remarkable performance: remarkable for its sick, delicious perversity and precise physicality—in her lip-synching, dancing (choreography by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg), and especially replicating someone trying to keep from being literally blown away when sound (Alex Mah) and lighting effects (Victoria Bell) create something like hurricane winds. All this while she keeps calling attention to her and the other Mary’s gig as actors: “What we’re doing here is of huge importance.”

Quieter but equally intense, Clift’s dynamite John mostly involves him re-telling the horrible story of his life, focusing on the people and events that landed him in this mental hospital: some bullying schoolmates but primarily his world’s worst neglectful, abusive parents. John turns out to be eloquent, even if severely traumatized. Mary 2 always takes on the roles of John’s nasty, nasty dad and beautiful sicko mother. Much more sympathetic Mary 1 plays the young woman, John’s fellow mental patient, who might have been a catalyst for his healing. Karakas gives a nicely sympathetic performance.

An obvious critique of institutional treatment for mental and emotional problems, the play seems equally to critique actorly egotism or the profession itself, which seems in this case to blind a person to the real-life damage she can do in character. But Mary 2 isn’t blind to the damage she does. She enjoys it, or just doesn’t care. She behavior seems more like individual psychosis or sociopathy than the product of a bad acting school.

When she blithely goes off to her next gig, a children’s party, will she do the same thing to those unsuspecting kids? Actors Equity might want to investigate.




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