Dave Kelly’s theatre debut tackles biggest theme: death
How do we honour the promises made in youth promises complicated by the passage of time by the fracture of relationships? Are there limits to a son’s obligation a father’s expectation? What is the power of music to bridge the long arc of story between childhood and adulthood between the intimation and the reality of death?
Calgary-based (and Alberta Media Production Industries Association-nominated) Kelly Brothers Productions debuts its first theatrical piece at this season’s Lunchbox Theatre with Dad’s Piano a short experimental work that juxtaposes monologue with live concert piano to tell the story of an adult son’s confrontation with his father’s impending death. Written by former Breakfast Television host David Kelly and directed by Rob Kelly the play features the collective local talents of actor Chris Hunt and classical concert pianist Jeff Neufeld and takes its subject from a biographical episode in Neufeld’s own life.
As Dave Kelly tells it the mandate to produce a theatrical piece that incorporates live concert piano performance as part of the narrative — rather than simply as mood or underscoring — provided the initial impetus for the production. The nucleus of a story came by accident at an early stage in the creative process when a selection of piano pieces Neufeld had chosen to perform for the Kelly brothers included Beethoven’s Appassionata (Sonata No. 23 in F minor Op. 57) .
“Jeff finishes playing” Kelly recounts “and says ‘the crazy thing about this piece is when I was 13 14 my dad loved it and said can you play this at my funeral.’ Sweet sure but also a little something heavy to lay on your 14-year-old.”
Neufeld’s chance observation prompted a series of questions about a fictitious relationship between a dying father and his pianist son.
“What would that funeral look like? What if they’re not getting along? What if they haven’t spoken in years? And you find out he’s died? Do I show up and play piano at his funeral? Because I said I would when I was 14 and I’m 50 now?” says Kelly of the questions the piece posed.
Beyond this the collaborators asked themselves how would this intimate story play out for the people surrounding that event for those both peripherally and directly involved in the long watch over the dying?
And how would the music play a role in telling the story?
The response to this (three-year) process of questioning takes shape in a series of 10 monologues each representing a different character in a unique scenario — all played by Hunt — interspersed and connected by Neufeld’s live interpretations of piano pieces by Beethoven Schumann Bach Chopin and Pelecis. Loosely unified by the single defining event of an impending death each character comes with his or her own backstory: a construction worker snubs outdoor port-o-potties for the appeal of well-maintained hospital toilets and finds himself consoling the dying man’s father; a nurse obsesses over his wife’s hideous Crocs while re-inserting an IV in the patient’s fading arm; a neighbour worries at the load of baking she’s promised for the funeral.
The accompanying music — selected by Neufeld and Rob Kelly — is intended both to flesh out and complement the narrative but also to tell the story in its own right.
“What I’m hoping” says Kelly “is that the people who aren’t really into classical piano will find this a compelling way to get into classical piano and the people who are into classical piano will find this an awesome way to get into a good story. If I were to hear this music just played —– without having a great appreciation of classical piano — I might hear it and think ‘that’s good.’ But I don’t think it would grab me in the same way it does in this play.”