Thirty years ago a brutal murder rocked the world of a rookie homicide detective. Now, on the verge of retirement, that detective has the chance to finally put the case to rest. But can he? Will he? And if he does, will he be forced to confront the possibility that his memories and his fantasies have become hopelessly intertwined?
John Gavey’s play, Dead Bear, poses these questions. Along the way, as we become immersed in the story of haunted detective Miles Mallow (played by Simon Du Toit), he asks us to think about the untrustworthiness of memory, the costs of obsession, and the nature of love. He gives audiences a lot to think about – which is a particularly impressive feat for a novice playwright.
The entire story really takes place over just a few hours of Miles’ life on his last day before retirement, but in that short period of time the stress of the situation, the possibility he might be able to finally lay the case to rest, causes time to fold in on itself. Past and present intermingle and flow freely – taking the audience along for the ride.
Everything centres around the character of Kasara (played by Nina Fasullo), a free spirit who looms large in the lives and memories of everyone she meets. Kasara brings colour into the drab ordinariness of the lives she touches.
People tend to just fall in love with her and become fixated on her –and she naturally, almost innocently, loves everyone she meets. And therefore trouble is always brewing around her, trouble she doesn’t always notice.
Her husband Corky (played by Nikolas Prsa) seethes with jealousy and tries to work out a way to save their marriage, even proposing a trial separation at one point. When Kasara is murdered, he becomes the prime suspect.
Even the police officers succumb to Kasara’s charms. Miles, of course, was in love with her when she was alive and has been fixated on her since her death. His boss, Captain Susan Hemmin (played by Cindy Pastorius) was also in love with her; she, Miles, and Kasara all lived in the same apartment building.
Senior detective Scott Easton (played by Joey Ouellette) is the only character who didn’t know Kasara while she was alive – but we learn he, too, has been thinking about the mystery of her death for three decades.
When Gavey’s script won the 2020 Windsor-Essex Playwriting Contest, the judges were particularly impressed by all the ways in which Dead Bear was unique. A romantic neo-noir detective story with melancholy undertones, twisting and intermingling time periods, an innocent sense of humour, and… poetry? Yes, poetry. Miles writes, in his own words, journals full of “bad poetry” chronicling his experiences in verse. Over the years, he’s amassed volumes of this poetry. Now, as he casts his thoughts back to Kasara’s murder, lines from his poetry become the means by which he and the audience travel between past and present.
Gavey describes these poems as “snapshots” of emotions that Miles feels at various times, but these little moments leave out all the space and time between those moments. “So he has these specific memories,” Gavey explains, “but what connects them to the other memories he doesn’t remember. That’s gone. What he truly felt he doesn’t know… So it’s not really what happened. It’s just little snippets he wrote afterwards”, leaving a lot of blank space to be filled by desire, imagination, really anything else.
For Gavey, the problems presented by Miles’ poetry are themselves snapshots of larger problems we all need to grapple with: the misplaced trust we place in our own memories, as well as our tendency to cling to painful memories we don’t acknowledge. As he points out, in this play, Miles is full of emotional demons he doesn’t acknowledge, because he believes he’s exorcised them.
Since Dead Bear is Gavey’s first play, and the upcoming production is the first time his work has ever been staged, he would be excused for feeling anxious. Thankfully, he says he’s pleased with how his script is taking shape onstage, as actors breathe their own life into his characters under the direction of Fay Lynn.
Watching some rehearsals has made him see his work in a new light. He’s discovered that it’s “heartbreaking” to watch Miles, as Simon Du Toit interprets the character, unravel before the audience’s eyes. Gavey notes that the way Du Toit, as Miles, recites the poetry, is “evocative” – “to see him going through that thing, it’s really strong because he’s not hiding anything… You’re inside his body with him. You experience it as he does.
There we have the universal truth that brings Dead Bear together and makes audiences feel connected to Miles. It’s something that permeates much of Post Productions’ output. “I am obsessed with the loneliness that each person carries within them,” Gavey explains. “Even when they’re in groups, or in relationships, they still have this untouchable loneliness, and that melancholy really speaks to me.”
Maybe that loneliness is why we share our stories, and seek out the stories of others. Maybe that’s what theatre is for – providing a space for lonely souls to share the same experience together, and thus feel connected to other lonely souls for a couple of hours.
To read the full transcript of my interview with John Gavey, you can find it on the Post Productions website at www.postproductionswindsor.ca.
Post Productions presents Dead Bear by John Gavey. Starring Simon Du Toit, Nina Fasullo, Cindy Pastorius, Joey Ouellette, and Nikolas Prsa. Directed by Fay Lynn. Produced by Fay Lynn, Michael K. Potter, and Nikolas Prsa. Nov. 26, 27 and Dec. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 2021 at The Shadowbox Theatre. 8:00 PM (doors open 7:30). Tickets $25, available online-only at postproductionswindsor.ca. All audience members must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and must be masked at all times in the venue.