APRIL 2024 | Volume 238


Production image

Gordon Patrick White, Tasha Faye Evans, Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen, Darcey Johnson. Credit Sarah Race Photography.

This Is How We Got Here
by Keith Barker
Firehall Arts Centre
April 13-28
From $30 or 604-689-0926

Suicide is one of the most horrible, difficult, disruptive ways for people to die. How terrible must a person have felt, how deep in dark despair must they have been, to be compelled to take their own life. And what a devastating mess they leave behindfor the survivors. Sometimes legal and logistical, especially if there is no will. Always personal and emotional given the guilt and endless questions about what they might have done differently. And of course, the grief.

Keith Barker’s This Is How We Got Here, co-directed for the Firehall by Donna Spencer and Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen, tracks the aftermath of a suicide on its first anniversary. Craig was an Indigenous youth, maybe a teen, maybe a young adult. We watch the consequences of his death unfold for his estranged parents, Lucille (Tasha Faye Evans) and Paul (Gordon Patrick White), Lucille’s older sister Liset (Ravensbergen), and her husband Jim (Darcey Johnson). For the four of them Craig’s suicide is a maelstrom, its centripetal force tearing them apart.

Lucille is a wreck, broken by her son’s death, blaming herself and Paul. Intense Paul blames Lucille and Craig himself. The two are hard on each other, Paul especially ripping into his wife,accusing her of being a drama queen and coddling their son, his rage driven in part by his own repressed guilt.

Liset seems the most grounded of them (and Ravensbergen’s performance the most impressive). But her attempts to help sister Lucille are a little overbearing, as are her demands on Jim, and her and Jim’s Catholicism also gets between them and Craig’s parents. Big Jim is slightly goofy in relation to smaller best friend Paul’s tightly wound intensity. Their friendship bends and threatens to break under the pressure of Craig’s legacy. And even laid-back Jim suffers from panic attacks since the event.

A fox in Liset’s garden turns out to be the symbolic centre of the play, with each character delivering a monologue about a fox and his story. Along with the humour that sometimes leavens the anger and sadness, the fox story provides not exactly a happy ending but a consolation of sorts.

For the most part the script navigates the chaos of these broken lives with intelligence and sensitivity, though watching people hurt the ones they love is rarely fun. A series of scenes in which the two men search the woods for Lucille should probably have been cut. But the acting is consistently strong, and the directors keep the momentum up (running time 80 minutes with no intermission).

The show is a pleasure to look at thanks to Kimira Reddy’s gorgeous, expansive set with its stylized broken birch trees, and Rebekah Johnson’s beautiful lighting, especially the phases of the day through the upstage scrim.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced a suicide in their own family will recognize some typical behaviours in the play’s characters and relive some familiar emotions. Amid the comedies and musicals that have dominated the spring theatre season, it’s a paradoxical pleasure to watch one of the most dire of human experiences intelligently explored onstage.



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