HART will stage tragic Canadian play
Every year, HART Theatre undertakes a project that symbolizes a departure from its other shows, one that confronts audiences with contemporary issues they're faced with that keeps the theater from sinking into commonplace.
"The December Man," also known as "L'homme de décembre," is a drama by Canadian author Colleen Murphy on courage, heroism and despair, and explores the long private shadow that public violence casts.
"We had a Skype session with Murphy, who vetted us, she had to approve us taking on the production," said Paul Roder, HART Theatre artistic director. "She wanted to make sure we were doing this thing right."
The work of fiction is based on an all too real incident that occurred in Canada, known as the Montreal Massacre.
On Dec. 6, 1989, at the Ecole Polytechnique, a top-ranking engineering school in Montreal, a 25-year-old male armed with a rifle shot 28 people before committing suicide. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was fighting feminism and calling the women a "bunch of feminists," he shot all nine women in the room, killing six.
He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria and another classroom, specifically targeting women. Overall, he killed 14 women and injured 10 others, as well as four men in just under 20 minutes before turning the gun on himself.
"This was at a time when schools were giving greater consideration to women for graduate programs, they were trying to be more diverse," said Roder. "And this kind of thing, it was a foreign thing to the country, they don't have a gun culture like our country."
The male's suicide note claimed political motives and blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note included a list of 19 Quebec women whom he considered to be feminists and wished to kill.
Murphy's notes that there are major differences between her work and the events of the massacre.
"This is a work of imagination — my intention is not to exploit the events that took place that day in the Ecole Polytechnique where 14 women were murdered, or to feed off the pain of families and friends who have been devastated, but to use the public event as a point of departure," said Murphy. "While drawing on some facts from the historical record, I have made no attempt to give a factual account of the event. I have altered and embellished reality and extended imaginary characters into real space and time. Any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental."
The play tackles some difficult subject matter, but Roder assures audiences that the production is in the best possible hands.
Dorinda Toner came to Roder with the passion of directing the work. Toner, who is also Canadian, is the artistic director of the Twilight Theater Company in North Portland, and has directed two previous productions for HART — "Spamalot" and "Becky's New Car."
"We said yes because of her commitment, and because we wanted to do something that challenges us, that challenges the actors, the audience, everyone involved," said Roder. "We don't get through one rehearsal without someone breaking down — this work speaks to a lot of current issues going on in our country."
"The December Man" stars Stan Yeend, Patti Speight and Samuel J. Ruble as a family consisting of a son, mother and father, respectively. Due to challenging emotional content and a bit of cursing, the production has been deemed not appropriate for children under 13. The show clocks in at around 90 minutes, with no music and no intermission at Murphy's request. After the show, there will be coffee and opportunities for discussion and comment with the actors and director.
The show's premiere date was moved from Friday, March 17, to Saturday, March 18, with the play running at the theater until April 2. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and students, and can be purchased at www.hart-theatre.org, or at the box office one hour before the performance begins.