By Dave Deveau. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A ZeeZee Theatre production. At Studio 16 on Friday, April 19. Continues until May 5
There is a specific kind of emptiness when one feels utterly and irreparably alone in the world. It’s an immersive hollowness, the slow crawl of absence. I’ve caught the edge of that feeling, but I’ve never witnessed it fully and completely evoked on-stage until now.
Dave Deveau’s new play, Dead People’s Things, is smart and heartfelt, funny, and devastating. Phyllis (Meaghan Chenosky) is stunned when she’s named the sole heir in her estranged aunt’s will, and she’s definitely not prepared to deal with Beatrice (Eileen Barrett), her aunt’s long-time next-door neighbour and friend. Beatrice is also the executor of the will, and demands that Phyllis deal with her aunt’s stuff before she can claim what’s hers. Together, they set upon the house, which is full of boxes piled floor to ceiling, all labelled with Post-it Notes and vague instructions to “keep” or “donate”. It is total chaos under a veneer of order, just like these two women who are doing their best in the complicated aftermath of suicide.
Barrett and Chenosky’s performances are exceptional, and they have plenty to dig into in Deveau’s rich, complex characters. Beatrice and Phyllis are broken in drastically different ways, but the root is the same: all-consuming loneliness. Phyllis is still mourning her mother’s death from cancer, and now she’s lost her sole remaining relative, whom she never really knew, while Beatrice must face the fact that she spent decades living next door to the life she truly wanted, unable to articulate her feelings even once while her friend was alive.
Dead People’s Things tackles life’s biggest, messiest experiences—grief and survival, fear and depression—and then revels in the quiet moments it carves out for itself in the characters’ personal reckonings. The play grapples with all the ways loss ruins us, the way it haunts, rages, exhausts, and inspires us, leaving ash in our mouths from all the questions we never asked, little fires in our bones smouldering out our best intentions.
I only wish Deveau had trusted his own radical talent enough to end the play about 10 minutes earlier, refusing the impulse to pack everything up in a tidy box and put his own Post-it on it, if you will. Dead People’s Things doesn’t need a clean resolution. It is not a mystery to be solved. The power of the play is its ability to stare into the wreckage of sorrow and fight the urge to “fix it” or “make it better”. It shows us how to carry our loneliness, and make space for it, without letting it swallow us whole.