A SMALL PART OF THE WHOLE STORY by Chris Graham and Sandro Pehar (TellPeople/Toronto Fringe Festival). At the Robert Gill Theatre (214 College, 3rd floor). July 14 at 9:30 pm, July 16 at 1:30 pm, July 17 at 4 pm. See listing. Rating: NNN
How do you deal with a loved one’s death in a story or play? Chris Graham attempts to do that about his late mother, who died from cancer several years ago. What’s interesting is that he knows, as the title of his show suggests, that he’ll only cover a part of the whole story.
Accompanied by sound designer/musician and friend Sandro Pehar, Graham tells stories about his mother and displays photographs on a monitor, many of them featuring her. Immaculately dressed, Graham is equally immaculate in presenting his show, holding a clicker to advance the photos and speaking in a controlled, careful way.
Asking Pehar to play various sounds on his guitar, Graham brings up some fascinating ideas about how we process and remember information. What’s intriguing is that, although we hear of Graham’s mother for only 50 minutes, we do form an impression of her: through her hobbies (she was an avid knitter), her reading material (she loved the author Nora Roberts, and Graham and his father would take turns reading aloud to her from her books at the hospital) and, most importantly, through others’ memories of her.
Some of the most powerful moments involve Graham recounting his father’s behaviour after her death; there’s one Christmas dinner memory that tells you a lot about the man’s state of mind. It rings painfully true.
While Graham’s presentation – directed by Graham Isador – is engaging, and he seems friendly and approachable, the piece doesn’t quite come together as theatre or storytelling. Graham drops a detail about his parents being panicky all their lives that doesn’t pay off. There’s something cold and detached about the show, and his performance. Which brings up another idea: do we only respond to grief when it’s accompanied by large gestures?
I think Graham might be okay with these thoughts. He even tells the audience he’s available to talk in the lobby after the show. He doesn’t seem to have big answers about what he’s after; he’s more than content to bring up questions. And that’s perfectly fine.
Director Graham Isador is one of NOW’s 10 artists to watch at the Fringe. See full list here.