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.