Mark Crawford creates a character who is gregarious and melodramatic. And lovable.
Dylan is an outrageous, loving, bossy, critical, self-deprecating gay man with a handsome, caring fiancé. He also has brain cancer. Dylan is planning his wedding and funeral. They have to be perfect, since he’ll be attending both. This is the delightfully macabre premise of Memorial, a new work by playwright Steven Gallagher.
Mark Crawford, fresh from successes in Studio 180’s The Normal Heart and Dream in High Park’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is the eccentric, hilariously histrionic, doomed Dylan. He is, in turns, snarling and charming, a condition induced by his illness and frustrations with a life cut short. Crawford is flanked by Pierre Simpson, his adorable, puppy-like fiancé, Trevor, and Mary Francis Moore as Dylan’s tired but faithful sister, Ruth. The main action of the show takes place on the couple’s much-delayed wedding day. Dylan’s sickbed becomes central command as he bosses around his loved ones, coordinating his illness, the day’s nuptials and a memorial that will bring all his friends together to share memories and stories about him, for him. Crawford’s Dylan starts off seeming prickly and mean, though the larger-than-life character warms on the audience as we’re taken through Dylan’s memories of his sister and fiancé. We learn he is a gregarious, melodramatic type who barrels into life head on, often at his own peril. Being such a strong personality, his fall into illness is that much more tragic.
The most difficult thing about Memorial is that its essence is very straightforward, which doesn’t leave much room for an emotional arc. It starts as a show that is equally funny and sad, and ends equally funny and sad. The consistency is by no means a bad thing, though it chugs along instead of building emotional steam. The power comes from the characters and moments the actors create together. In one fantastic standout scene, Dylan allows Trevor to help him shave. So simple, sad and moving. At times the dialogue verges on sentimental or cliché, but for the most part the actors keep the characters very real, allowing their characters' vulnerabilities to shine through. “Human” is the best word to describe the character of Dylan, and the show as a whole. The ultimate injustice is in the untimely death of a vivacious, complicated, seemingly invincible person we love. The cast of Memorial finds the vulnerable strength in the story of a beautiful person who just wants to be loved and remembered.
Memorial is part of The Next Stage Festival, running Wed, Jan 2–Sun, Jan 13 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. $10–15. fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival