Arts & Life, Theatre

Theatre preview: Sargent & Victor & Me

Photo: Leif Norman

Two weeks ago a friend died – too young, too in shape, too sweet. Too many toos. Sitting at his overflowing funeral the word “unacceptable” looped through my head. 

“I do not accept this; this cannot be.” I overheard another attendee say he knew a boatload of people who should’ve gone first. Not that it would be more just, but our friend would still be there.

How do we cope with unstoppable processes of destruction? Those are the words Debbie Patterson wrote on the handbill of Sargent & Victor & Me, which opened Thursday as the last show of Theatre Projects Manitoba’s season. Or the vernacular translation we agreed on during our interview:

“How do we deal with all the shit that fucking sucks?”

Leaning against the wall are the forearm crutches Patterson uses to get around. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in ’99, the founding member of Shakespeare in the Ruins has gradually had her mobility stripped away. She no longer performs in SIR’s physically demanding outdoor shows, with their “long shot” entrances and exits across the fields. Her partner, Arne MacPherson (who’s directing the show) can descend a floor, change laundry and return in the time it would take her to get down the stairs. Her body has been hijacked.

“I’m not having the life I thought I would be living,” Patterson says. “The plans I’m making are not the plans I thought I’d be making.”

But Sargent & Victor & Me isn’t a vanity project. Or a pity party.

“I don’t want to do ‘poor me, I have MS, what a hard life I have,’” Patterson says. “I want to find ways of my living with MS being useful to other people.”

Photo: Leif Norman

Originally a series of verbatim monologues gathered from residents and visitors who orbit around the West End intersection of Sargent and Victor, Patterson’s one-woman show draws a parallel between her body’s breakdown and a neighbourhood’s crippling problems. Guided by Toronto dramaturg Iris Turcotte (“A force of nature… intense,” Patterson describes), the show has become a collision between an outsider’s life assumptions and a community’s spiritual oasis where broken, baggage-burdened bodies find nourishment.

“The protagonist’s interaction with the neighbourhood is a catalyst for change,” Patterson says. “It’s all about expectations, reality not living up to them.”

That’s the universal lesson MacPherson says takes S&V&M beyond the tacky realm of issue plays. “It’s bigger than the troubled neighbourhood… It’s about more than MS, though in a small town everybody knows Debbie and it’s not surprising people might think of it that way.”

“Hopefully it’s a play about how we live with all the shit that fucking sucks,” Patterson says. “It’s like compost. You take the shit you don’t want and try to turn it into something.”

The key, Patterson says, is letting go. Letting go of bitter words. Letting go of unacceptable.

“Accept, accept, accept – with gratitude. Whatever you can be grateful for, find it.”

Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.