Wednesday 4 April 2012

Scar Tissue Preview : opens April 5th

On its face Scar Tissue describes the brain lesions that define Alzheimer’s disease. The story line in the 1993 Michael Ignatieff novel, short-listed for the Booker Prize, follows the descent of a middle-age mom – a landscape and portrait painter of some skill who swigs beer – through the “progress” of her disease and death.
Scrape away the skin of Ignatieff’s novel and the subject, most simply put, is about words. How words and thoughts either propel us backward in time or project us forward.  As such they impinge upon us and can compromise us ad nauseam.  Ultimately words put us at risk of suffering Kierkegaard’s sickness unto death, the death of the soul. 
Given this cheery subject matter, one could be forgiven for thinking “Gosh, this promises to be heavy, daunting, and depressing!”  But Ignatieff's story is not. It’s a lively piece of character by-play and development that moves quickly and engagingly.
The story is told from the point of view of the younger son, a philosophy professor and incurable romantic.  In the Dennis Foon script his character is given the name David, age 35. David’s older brother is named Nick, age 40. He is a neurologist from Boston who is mildly cynical as he goes about his clinical practice blithely admiring coloured-dye brain scan downloads. Nick is Daddy's boy, David is Mommy's. 
Nick is convinced the answer to pathology is science, not philosophy or art. Throughout the book Nick and David scrap and tussle, the yang of intellect bashing the yin of heart.‬
David carries the narrative as Scar Tissue is primarily his struggle to find his *true* self, his essence, as he witnesses his mother, Mary, live out her life, failing from early onset. He ministers faithfully to her, forsakes his university job, his marriage, his son due to his all-consuming obsessive quest. 
He spends countless hours, days, weeks and months bedsitting her -- helping her dress, eat, sleep, and engage. Always engage. Always the words. Words chasing words. Guilts from the past, fears for the future. Never making sense of the now. Never stopping to just b-r-e-a-t-h-e.
David doesn’t seem to get that it’s Mary's present that is her life, not her history or her physical trappings or their endless conversations.  The truth is there for him, with every puff of air, but the words get in the way : lost pasts and lost paths only create scar tissue.
Proof of this is David’s agony over the “why” behind his mother ceasing to paint – to deal with how it was she in fact invited him as a teen to participate in ending her prized hobby abruptly, violently. 
Throughout Ignatieff's story David's angst betrays a fear his philosopher's tongue may be no more able to resist DNA and the ravages of Alzheimer’s than his mother's paint-stained fingers could. Or Grandma Nettie before her.
In fretting ceaselessly over his mother and their past, David fails to see what Mom ultimately discerns : that everything other than one's core energy field is but metaphor. In the same way paints only picture and words but describe, it isn't health or disease or hobby or profession that are “the” person. They are just circumstances and conditions. What was, was, what is, is. 
In Ignatieff's novel I am not satisfied David ever has the kind of epiphany his mom did. A “Saul on the road to Damascus” moment seems to elude him to the end, even though the paints are long gone and his own words haven’t led him to any kind of promised land.  
So whether playwright Foon nudges David further along the road to the light of insight will be intriguing to see.‬
Scar Tissue opens April 5th, and is scheduled to close April 28th at the Granville Island Revue Stage.  
N.B. Media Opening night is next Wednesday, April 11th. BLR's review will follow that evening.
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