Last night the Dublin theatre company Brokentalkers took a break from the tech rehearsal for their show Have I No Mouth to share an excerpt from the work with members of PuSh's Patrons Circle. The excerpt began with a short super-8 film composed of several shots of empty or half-empty Guinness glasses. We soon learn from Feidlim Cannon, one of the creators and performers of the piece, that he made the film as a memorial to his dead father, shooting the pint glass in successive spots that reminded him of his dad.
If this opening seems a somewhat unusual way to work through the loss of a loved one, consider the fact that for the remainder of the show Cannon appears on stage with his real-life mother, Ann, and with their psychotherapist, Erich--who is there to help mother and son process the complicated layers of their grief over a death, we eventually learn, that could have been prevented. In doing so, Erich employs several visualization exercises that happen to dovetail nicely with devised theatre practice more generally: he asks Ann to choose several objects that remind her of her husband; he instructs audience members on how to relax and breathe more deeply in their seats; and he asks us to fill the balloon we each received upon entering the theatre with our negative energy, and then to slowly release the air in a long whine by holding and stretching the neck of the balloon.
At the brief artist's talk that PuSh Artistic and Executive Director Norman Armour led with Ann, Feidlim, Erich and director Gary Keegan, I asked about the ethical negotiations involved in the creation of a play in which client-therapist privilege is largely thrown out the window. We learned that Erich was originally brought on as a sort of professional outside eye, to advise with the representation of trauma and familial grief on stage; however, Brokentalkers founders Cannon and Keegan quickly realized that the piece would be that much stronger if Erich were part of the action on stage. So the "therapy" we witness is actually coincident with the devising of the play, and nothing was used unless it was agreed upon by all members of the process.
Judging by what I heard last night, this process takes Ann and Feidlim (and presumably the audience) to some very dark places indeed. I only regret that my schedule prevents me from seeing the results.
Have I No Mouth opens at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island tonight and runs through Saturday evening.