This month the Belfry Theatre presents two plays, both connected by the theme of motherhood.
“We have this unique evening of two plays, connected by their theme of mother-son relationships, by their charm and intelligence and by creative artists who have been part of seasons past, returning with new gifts to share with us,” says artistic director Michael Shamata.
Itai Erdal has relived his mother’s last days on stage since 2011. For him, it’s not an unpleasant experience.
“It’s more joyous that anything else,” he says. “It shows her humour. My mom would make fun of me. It was fun hanging out with my mom.”
Erdal was just 25 and fresh out of Vancouver film school when he returned home to Jerusalem to care for his dying mother.
Although he had gone to film school, he planned on being a lighting designer. But his mother had a different plan. “She was the one who gave me the camera and said make this,” he says. “It was her idea.”
Erdal filmed hundreds of hours and eventually his mother turned the camera on him. “On the video you see the 25 year old me. … It was emotionally hard, but it was also playful and fun. I loved to do it and it was not depressing at all. I think it was her way of having a say in my future profession.”
Erdal says making the documentary changed his life. He turned the footage into a performance piece with lighting he runs from the stage as he tells his mother’s story.
How to Disappear Completely was formed with the help of director James Long and dramaturge Anita Rochon at Vancouver’s Chop Theatre. The pair helped “clarify and crystallize the show,” says Erdal.
“One reviewer said it shows humour, beauty and tragedy with the expertise of a tightrope walker – I think that is the best way to explain it,” he says.
Mery Erdal died of lung cancer 13 years ago leaving her son with a fascinating legacy. “She would approve. She would be happy for me. It is a remarkable thing to do, to touch and reach people.”
Daniel MacIvor’s play The Best Brothers attempts to address the age-old question: Who did mom love best?
“It’s about three brothers – two human and the third’s a dog,” says MacIvor on the phone from his home on a Nova Scotia acreage.
The play had its debut at the Stratford Festival in 2012.
The story, which follows Kyle and Hamilton Best as they divvy up mom’s estate after her untimely death due to a freak accident at the Gay Pride Parade, was written “unexpectedly,” says MacIvor.
He and writer Iris Turcott were working on Was Spring when he adopted an Italian Greyhound he named Buddy. “I got my first dog when I was 45 years old and every day I would tell her these horror stories about this puppy that was destroying my life,” MacIvor says.
Then the Stratford Festival asked him for one of his works. “I said to Iris, ‘I don’t have anything,’ and she said: ‘What about your play about the dog?’”
To which he replied, “What play?” and Turcott produced a file of notes she had kept from all his puppy tales.
The dog stories, plus his polar opposite older brothers gave MacIvor the basis for The Best Brothers. “But that ain’t my mom. It ain’t my mom,” says MacIvor, with a laugh. “It’s probably the mother I wish I had, but all works are autobiographical in one way or another – well, PD James probably didn’t experience all those murders – but the type of plays I write.”
In life, one of his brothers is a union-type, the other in management. For the play the Best Brothers are an architect and developer. “Plus, I was interested in giving the actors a challenge, so they each play a brother and also they both play the mother, who only speaks to the audience. It’s the version of the mother they identify with,” he says.
A heartwarming comedy, The Best Brothers runs 90-minutes without intermission following How to Disappear Completely at the Belfry Theatre to March 1.