TJ Dawe's Medicine is an honest, cleansing experience

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Written and directed by TJ Dawe. A Firehall Arts Centre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, January 3. Continues until January 13 and then from January 23 to February 2

An image sticks in my head from the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival a few years ago. It’s late at night and TJ Dawe is wandering, alone, along Pandora. I think to myself: “This guy is the king of the Fringe. Why does he look so isolated every time I see him? And why is he so hard to talk to?” Now I know. In Medicine, Dawe explores how his therapeutic use of the psychoactive infusion ayahuasca helped him to recognize the root causes of his shame and isolation. Medicine is a deeply honest and generous—not to mention smart and entertaining—piece of theatre.

Dawe is no stranger to self-revelation. In shows such as The Slipknot, Labrador, and Dishpig, he has skillfully transformed his personal adventures into winning evenings of solo storytelling. Medicine, which is also a monologue, goes deeper. Vancouver addiction specialist Dr. Gabor Maté guided Dawe’s ayahuasca experiences during a weeklong group-therapy workshop on a hobby farm near Victoria. In Medicine, Dawe shares secrets that he had never shared with anyone before that week.

Lots of us have scary critters slinking around in our psyches, of course, but few of us have the guts to name them in front of a couple of hundred people a night. The mystery and the bravery involved in Dawe’s trying to figure out where his fears come from make for a strong, classic narrative: he becomes a real-life hero facing the dark unknown, and as he undergoes physical and spiritual adversity on his quest, the stakes are high. A powerful agent, ayahuasca can be overwhelming—and I’m not just talking about the puking. “My blood is made of purple sand,” Dawe says at one point when he’s tripping.

Dawe leavens all of this with humour. Three shamans assist Maté. These are not indigenous Peruvians in feathered headdresses; they’re all white and one of them is named Dave. And Dawe intercuts the therapeutic narrative with comic rants about outmoded systems—the way keyboards are laid out to slow the typing process, for instance. It all ties in, of course. What’s therapy if not an attempt to recognize and retool outmoded systems?

The physical production is handsomely simple: as designer Jamie Burns varies the lighting, we immediately know whether we’re in the heat of the therapeutic week or the cool of comic interludes.

And Dawe is a skilled performer, playing with tone and pace, punctuating his physical stillness with sudden bouts of manic movement. Here, more than ever, he’s an honest performer. More than once, his openheartedness brought tears to my eyes. As Dawe wrestled with his demons, I wrestled with mine. I emerged feeling inspired and cleansed.

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pim
I hope Dawe will tour Europe, including Holland.
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Cynthia Johnston
Colin, I was in Vancouver for Saturday's show and I was duly impressed. TJ Dawe's has an amazing ability to continually go deeper and to use his craft to share his personal experiences with us, the audience. Having Gabor Mate for the talk-back was enlightening; he is people smart and empathetic, many of my own clients having always spoken highly of him as a physician. That said, I was somewhat taken aback by the talk back on Saturday. Not only did the audience not direct their attention to Dawe, but the room was not dissimilar in energy to my work with addicts. By far the majority of questions directed to Gabor Mate were with regard to how they could get the drug or what drugs might work in a similar fashion. Only one wise woman inquired about such group therapy being effective without the drug. All that said, Dawe was brilliant as ever and my respect for him continues to grow.
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