Dead People’s Things. Zee Zee Theatre world premiere of Dave Deveau play at Studio 16 (227–1555 W. Seventh Avenue, Vancouver) through May 5 at 8 p.m. Live ASL Interpretation: April 20, 2 p.m. and May 3, 8 p.m. Tickets: $34/$28 (zeezeetheatre.ca).
When someone dies, the shift that happens to those around them is so profound, it feels as though all the planets and their satellites have been knocked out of orbit.
That’s how North Vancouver actor Eileen Barrett felt after her mother died, and it is that same sensation of being shaken loose as gravity gives way that permeates Dead People’s Things, which premieres this week (April 17-May 5) at Studio 16 in Vancouver.
Written by award-winning writer Dave Deveau, the play is a comedy-drama based on real-life events following the death of his aunt.
Dead People’s Things tells the story of Phyllis (played by Meaghan Chenosky), a millennial who inherits a house and all of its contents after her estranged hoarder aunt commits suicide.
Phyllis must then collaborate with her neighbour Beatrice (Barrett), who has been named executor of the estate, to understand the life of a woman she barely knew by going through the myriad, eclectic items she left behind.
The deeply personal work marks Deveau’s 11th play, following acclaimed works such as My Funny Valentine and Elbow Room Café: The Musical.
Dead People’s Things, presented by Zee Zee Theatre, is directed by Deveau’s husband, Cameron Mackenzie, who notes “there is a profound connection between how we remember those we lose and the things they have left behind.”
The play explores those connections, as well as the feelings of disconnectedness that exist between people.
“I think both of these characters are craving connection,” says Barrett. “My character has just lost what is her most important connection, and Meghan’s character has not really had that. And so it’s amazing that the void that is left by that one [deceased] person can actually provide connection for those two people.
“That has been a really interesting exploration, to find what was lost, but also by the end of the play, what has been gained,” says Barrett, who describe the story as ultimately hopeful.
Barrett, a North Vancouver resident who has lived on the outskirts of Edgemont Village for 27 years, says rehearsing a new work for the stage is an intense process that – much like the course of grief – doesn’t follow a straight line.
“Since it’s a new play, it’s very much about discovery… right up until the moment that you have an audience, because they’re the last piece of the puzzle. You find out a lot once it’s in front of real, live people,” Barrett says.
“I think both Meaghan, my co-star and I, are really, really wanting to honour and bring life to the play, especially because Dave’s writing is beautiful. He has provided some really, really lovely, heartfelt writing for both of us.”
She hopes that once that writing is brought to life on stage, it will serve as a touchpoint for discussion about death and what’s important in life.
“We need to talk about it. We need to talk about it lots. We’re not – any of us – getting out of this life alive,” says Barrett, who remembers how surreal it felt when her mother passed on. “Other cultures deal with death so much better than we do. We need to talk about it openly, without shame, and there shouldn’t be any judgements.”
On a lighthearted note, Barrett points out that while the topic may be heavy, the time commitment isn’t; you’ll be in and out in 90 minutes.
“The space is terrific to come in and have a glass of wine and a plate of fantastic frittes before the show. Come and see, and then have a real heart-to-heart talk with whoever it is that you bring… have a conversation with your loved one on the way home: ‘How do you want to leave things? Do you want a house full of stuff when you go, or is that important? What is really important?’ ”
Barrett is a Jessie Award-winning actor (How I Learned To Drive) who has appeared on such TV shows as The Good Doctor (AMC) and The Magicians (SyFy). She is also a theatre instructor and writer who enjoys working in radio and audiobook narration. Chenosky won a Jessie Award for her performance in Killer Joe.
The creative team on Dead People’s Things also includes set designer Jennifer Stewart, lighting designer Sophie Tang, costume designer Hannah Case and sound designer Mishelle Cuttler.
Zee Zee Theatre presents Dead People’s Things until May 5 at Studio 16, #227-1555 W. Seventh Ave., Vancouver. Tickets are $34 and $28 at tickets.theatrewire.com.