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In 1991 Princess Diana visited Casey House, Ontario’s first free-standing hospice for people living with HIV/AIDS. The hospice was established in 1988, at the height of the AIDS epidemic and was a revolutionary step in looking after sufferers of AIDS who had been treated almost as if they were lepers.
Playwright Nick Green has fashioned an imaginary but beautiful and emotionally wrenching play surrounding the visit of the Princess of Wales.
Almost the entire play takes place in a well-appointed room of the hospice where two men are waiting die. Thomas (Sean Arbuckle), a gruff and troubled man, is a fan of the Princess and spent hours watching her wedding to Prince Charles. He is preparing for her visit, imagining it, rehearsing his meeting with her and is determined to live until she arrives.
The other patient is Andre (Davinder Malhi), a young man who has been abandoned by his family and has no one who is interested in him. His mother has changed her phone number to avoid being contacted by him. Both men are seriously ill and are waiting to die. That’s what people do in a hospice.
Vera (Sophia Walker) is the efficient nurse looking after the two men. She is not unsympathetic, but she is professional. Marjorie (Linda Kash) is a volunteer who befriends Andre and goes to great lengths to help him in the last days of his life. She is accused of going overboard, “against policy” and disciplined for it.
Pauline (Laura Condlin) is Thomas’s foul-mouthed, angry sister who abandoned her brother. They appear to hate each other and there is a huge chasm to be crossed to achieve reconciliation.
Krystin Pellerin bears a remarkable resemblance to Princess Diana. She appears numerous times, most of them in the imagination of Thomas, says very little but has a remarkable effect on Thomas’s life.
The play deals with death but Green invests it with humour, a difficult thing to do but essential to avoid maudlin sentimentality. We cry for the two men who are dying and have a very sympathetic volunteer in Marjorie and nurse Vera. Pauline and Thomas try to resolve their differences but the crux of the play is the dream or chimera of seeing Princess Diana, saying something to her and asking her what she will be on Halloween, which is a week after her visit.
Arbuckle, his head shaved, marks of AIDS on his face, gives a bravura and unforgettable performance as he grasps for survival, prepares for a meeting of a lifetime and lives every moment of it in his imagination.
Malhi is just a kid who relies on his new and only friend Marjorie to bring him some items from his apartment. He is dying but somehow some things still mean a great deal to him. We cry for him as we cry for Thomas. A wonderful performance. Kash is excellent as an exemplar of decency. Nurse Vera keeps asking her why she is volunteering. Walker is good as the nurse who must enforce the rules. Condlin’s Pauline is more complex in her approach until we finally see her in a positive vein.
The set by Joshua Quinlan consists of a large room with two beds in it. It is a beautiful hospice despite being a place where people are sent to die. The added element in this case is that the hospice was built for people who were ignored by society because of their illness.
Director Andrew Kushnir does superb work in bringing out the humour, the emotional tensions, the beautiful dream of meeting a princess and the end of the play that did not leave a dry eye in the house.
Casey and Diana by Nick Green opened on June 1 and will run until June 17, 2023, at the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

June 9, 2023
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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