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A play on caring for aging parents: 'You need to take care of them, but it’s complicated'

Rosa Laborde’s True explores how children deal with a parent who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

David Spowart

Rosa Labordé's True was tried at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival, where it was one of the most talked about plays. Now the intense, thoughtful site-specific drama returns to the Citizenry cafe, with its cast intact. We spoke to the playwright Ms. Labordé about the inspiration, staging and meaning of True.

The bare bones of your play is that it takes from the story of King Lear, involving three daughters and the return of their estranged, slightly mad father. Can you flesh that out a little?
It is definitely inspired by King Lear, but also by occasions in my own life and people in my family dealing with what you do with an aging parent who is now suffering from dementia. You need to take care of them, but it's complicated when they never really took very good care of you. I also heard a segment on CBC Radio that was about a family of siblings whose mother had returned and wanted them to give her money. She didn't have anything and she thought they owed her, even though she had abandoned them and was a drug addict.

Can you talk about why you decided to stage the play at the Citizenry cafe?
I was thinking about themes I wanted to deal with when I walked into the Citizenry. It was beautiful. Right away I knew I needed to do something there. I asked them if I could do a play there, and they said, Sure. But I hadn't written anything yet. So I wrote the piece for the space. It inspired me and informed how the play functions.

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Do you find that site-specific theatre lends itself to a different sort of audience?
I'm not sure it does. I think people who go to theatre are people who go to theatre, they're willing to try something new. We do get people who are interested in being part of an experience. You feel like you're spying a little bit. You're much closer to the actors.

The actor people seem to be reacting strongly to is Scott McCord, your co-artistic director and co-founder in Criminal Theatre, who plays the complex, musical husband of one of the daughters.
First, he's a beautiful actor. I wrote the part for him. He's also a brilliant musician, so anything I have him do involves him playing music or composing. His character is the seeker of the bunch. He's a musician who got into drugs. He didn't take the path that he'd hoped to take, so he's become obsessed with multiverse theory and the possibility that if he had taken another road, he could be different.

How does all that connect with the main narrative of the play?
With the appearance of the father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, he's interested in how his mind works, and if the loss of memory causes him to gain something else. The idea is enlightenment. That you lose your identity, and that you understand yourself as something different than this personality structure that you've built. And it being a kind of a positive, as a movement toward some kind of light. I think it's interesting, and it's something that the character, Franco, for sure finds fascinating.

Is this loss of self something you feel people should strive for?
I think so. It's the lessening of attachment to our identity. You might mind yourself to be a part of the source of everything and everyone. And it probably would be a much more peaceful place on Earth.

True runs Sept. 3 to Sept. 13. $24. Citizenry, 982 Queen St. W., criminaltheatre.com.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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