Death a laughing matter in new GCTC play

By Tina Depko

Every person struggles to deal with the death of a loved one in a different way.

Some people turn to family members for a shoulder to cry on, while others find solace in comforting foods.

And then there is Mrs. Pringle, who covers every item in her house with tissues after the death of her husband.

Mrs. Pringle is the lead character in the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s upcoming production, A Guide to Mourning, which runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 8.

The title may suggest that this might be a dramatic work, but director Dennis Fitzgerald says that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

“When you look at the title of the play, A Guide to Mourning, it may seem that it is about death,” he says. “Really, it is a witty, quirky, comic piece about life.”

The play showcases the Pringle family trying to give its husband/father a decent funeral.

Mrs. Pringle works through her grief with bizarre acts and rituals, and the arrival of her estranged children adds to the fantastic situation.

The family has grown apart over the years.

But the funeral forces the characters to work through their problems amidst a series of outrageous events, which include the arrival of a drunk minister and the theft of a pair of running shoes.

Despite the play’s funerary theme, tasteful humour will soothe and entertain audience members according to Fitzgerald, who marks his directing debut with this GCTC production.

“This play can help those who are grieving at this point in their lives because it doesn’t make fun of death,” he explains. “What it does is show us that it is all right to grieve.”

And both Fitzgerald and GCTC artistic director Lorne Pardy expect that audiences will not only pick up on the wit but also leave the theatre emotionally satisfied.

“I think audiences will love this play,” Pardy says. “Although some parts of the play will have you rolling in the aisles, there is also a sense of healing and family that will leave you with a warm feeling.”

A Guide to Mourning was written by Calgary playwright Eugene Stickland and it premiered to rave reviews at Alberta Theatre Projects in 1999.

Pardy was sitting in the audience during one of the performances.

He says he was very impressed with both the work and the audience’s reaction.

In fact, he was so excited about presenting the work this season that he decided to get on stage himself.

“I am playing the role of Rex, who is one of Mrs. Pringle’s sons, and I am very excited,” Pardy says. “There are a few butterflies in my stomach since this will be the first time I’ll be on stage in two years, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Pardy is just one actor of a six-member cast that Fitzgerald refers to as “wonderful.”

Chip Chuipka, another cast member, agrees that this is a talented group of actors.

“All of the actors are showing up to rehearsals with their work done and everyone seems really great,” says Chuipka, who plays the role of Mrs. Pringle’s other son Louis.

“There’s got to be at least 300 years of theatre experience between everyone working on the play.”

Fitzgerald says that this experienced cast has come together as a believable family, both physically and dramatically.

“I think the audience will relate to the characters, although these characters are slightly off-centre and not quite normal,” Fitzgerald says enthusiastically. “The audience should see hints of themselves or their family members in it, as well as the recognition of family squabbles.”