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Running at the Montreal St-Ambroise Fringe Festival through June 19.


I would like to start this review with an apology, which is to say that I made it a goal this year to have every review out the day after I saw the production, something I managed with my review of THE ONE last week, and had every intention to do so with Darragh Mondoux's SIRE, which has been mounted by Heart of Gold productions. Directed by Calder Levine, it's still running through June 19th at Café Campus. However, upon attempting to gracefully leave the show on the night I saw it, I proceeded to trip over my own feet almost as soon as I began my descent down the concrete stairs of Café Campus, and suffered a truly spectacular fall the entire way down, in what I very genuinely believe was a near-death experience. Believing I may have had a broken tibia, I was escorted by paramedics to the emergency room, where I received a diagnosis of "throughly bonked, bashed, and bruised - but not suffering any actual fractures." I would like to thank the staff of the Fringe festival (especially Sarah), for ensuring my safe deliverance to the hospital, high-volume calcium supplements, the medical staff at Hôpital Notre-Dame, and my thick thighs - which do, in fact, save lives. I would also like to extend a sincere apology to the cast and crew of SIRE, who have been more than patient with this review while I recover. Thank you! I'm so sorry.

Anyway, on to the actual review: It's hard to get old, and no one knows this as well as a vampire. Our protagonist, whose name has been bashed out of my head by gravity, was already ancient by vampire standards when he became a father to his human daughter, Vera, thirty years ago. Having raised her as a single father, he is now forced to reckon with the sacrifices she's making to provide eldercare which is, to put it mildly, highly-specialized.

Vera and her father struggle with the new territory of understanding each other as peers, now that she is very much an adult. They are devoted to each other. They each desperately want things from their respective lives/afterlives which the other does not understand. They love each other very much. Vera is obviously her father's daughter in attitude, humour, and behaviour - something that is eerily and heartwarmingly obvious in the real-life father-daughter ensemble of Darragh and Robert Mondoux. Vera wants her father to turn her into a vampire. Her father doesn't think this is a good idea, for reasons he struggles to communicate.

I came into the room expecting a comedy, and at the beginning of the play that's exactly what I got: the first quarter of the show, or so, is a litany of jokes which hits with a Tina Fey-like relentlessness. It is so funny, I struggle to recover between every round of laughter before I'm hit with another. The work is a loving satire of the genre conventions of horror novels and movies - an ideological descendent of the BUNNICULA novels, or WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, or AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. The work does what all great satire does: it sees the absurdity in a thing, and does not back down from delighting in it - but there is nothing mean-spirited about it. This becomes abundantly clear when the work takes a very serious tonal shift, somewhere between a third and halfway through, and is suddenly a narrative which explores intergenerational responsibility, grief, and the embodied inheritance of love and devotion. SIRE has a true emotional intelligence to it, which I think comes down to a fundamental understanding of the function of horror as storytelling. All horror works on the level of metaphor. There is the vehicle of the metaphor (in this case, vampires and their lore) and then there is what truly scares us: the less clear thing also being said, the thing driving the vehicle of the metaphor - in this case, aging, and mortality, and the reality of abandoning the people to whom we are responsible. That's what makes horror really scary - that less-obvious tenor thing, which taps into some primal human fear, or sadness.

The narrative climax of the piece comes essentially at the very end, which is risky, but works. It's my opinion that the storytelling still needs work - there is, in the climax, a callback to an earlier plot point which could have been strengthened by repetition. The Feylike rapidness of the humour in the first movement drops off so completely, to make room for serious storytelling, that the later humour comes across as out-of-left field - I think an editorial pass with attention to the comedic and emotional dynamics of the piece would be worthwhile, which is not to say that the work needs to lose any of the complexity about the humiliations of age, or the complexity of elder or end-of-life care, or exactly what children owe their parents, or parents owe their children - it's very moving.

Both actors are charismatic in the extreme. Darragh Mondoux is able to express a smart, anxious aloofness which is at once deadpan, earnest, and chic. This strikes me as very Montreal. She manages to come across as both hipster-cool and as a genuinely unsettling outsider, which I always figure must be very difficult for women as uniquely striking as she is. Robert Mondoux alludes, in his biography, to a distant past in community theatre, from which he's taken a decades-long sabbatical to concentrate on a truly remarkable painting career. He sinks back into an actor's role with the chops of a multidisciplinary artist and the complex love of a real-life dad. Choreographed movements and asynchronous behavioural quirks highlight the father-and-daughter pair's physical and behavioural resemblance, which left me feeling very sentimental.

I feel very blessed, in a world where so many women have very terrible relationships with their fathers, to have a good one, and the show's reminder - that not even eternal life grants a respite from grief, that to love is to lose, that all we can reasonably expect is a lifetime of growth and compromise and forgiveness and love - left me weeping. I wept with love for my dad, and joy at getting to be in a room full of art, and the knowledge that I hadn't eaten since breakfast and there was a good dosa place nearby. So I ran out of the theatre too quickly, and I fell down the stairs. I saw concrete rushing up towards my face, and I thought, this would be a very stupid way to die. Then, I did not die. When it was time to ask for help, I asked the very kind Fringe employee who made sure I got to the hospital okay, and then I asked my partner, and then I asked my dad. I thought about how one day I wouldn't get to ask him for help any more. My legs hurt, but I am very grateful.

SIRE runs at Cafe Campus through June 19th. Tickets can be purchased here. Please be careful on all staircases, you are very important and I'm not completely convinced that heaven is real.

From This Author - Tara McGowan-Ross

Tara McGowan-Ross is an urban Mi’kmaq multidisciplinary artist. She is the author of the poetry collections GIRTH and SCORPION SEASON (both INSOMNIAC PRESS), the host of Montreal's INDIGENOUS... (read more about this author)

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