MEMORIAL by Steven Gallagher, directed by D. Jeremy Smith, with Mark Crawford, Mary Francis Moore and Pierre Simpson. Presented by Next Step and Next Stage Theatre Festival at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs through January 13; see fringetoronto.com for schedule. $12-$15, festival passes $48-$88. 416-966-1062.
Dylan, the central character in Steven Gallagher's dark comedy Memorial, has a lot on his plate.
Dying of cancer, he's about to get married to his partner, Tyrone, while trying to sort out his relationship with his sister, Ruth, and planning his own memorial service.
A service at which he insists on being present.
"It began as a 10-minute play for Driftwood Theatre's Trafalgar 24 Creation Festival," recalls Gallagher, who had eight hours to come up with a script after being given the phrase "love and acceptance" as his starting point.
"I was writing in the castle's chapel and found that I could put my characters into the pews in order to organize them," he smiles. "The play I came up with dealt with a dying man with control issues who wanted to attend his own funeral."
The play won the jury prize and Gallagher, who had a previous success with his Fringe show, Craplicker, was offered a commission to expand the work.
Then a close friend found out he was dying of cancer and asked Gallagher to make his story part of the play. That's when one of the roles in the original script changed from the central character's father to his lover.
"There's a lot of my friend in Dylan, who's both stubborn and lovable," admits the playwright, known as a performer for his work in Urinetown, Elegies, A New Brain and The Rocky Horror Show. "He's a charming, devilish, irascible guy not given much time to pull his life together.
"He's not going into the darkness easily, nor is it simple for those around him. Dylan's always been proud of having control of his life, and with his illness he's losing that control."
The others understandably have their own worries. Trevor has to watch his partner falling apart and fears what it's going to be like being alone. Ruth, Dylan's soul-mate when they were growing up, realizes they haven't been so close as grown-ups and wants to reconnect with the brother she's soon to lose.
Despite its themes of death and reconciliation, Memorial is buoyed by comedy.
"These people are caught in absurd situations and trying to struggle with how to get through the day. Flashbacks help define the characters, too, allowing some horrific moments to be really funny.
"But I haven't written one-liners. This comedy is true to life, with that gasp-laugh kind of reaction we've all experienced."