A Short Visit Making Big Changes
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Important: I reviewed this play at the Stratford Festival in June 2023, as follows. Now, in 2024, it is on stage starting January 23 to February 11. Tickets are from $25-$65 at the Young Centre. Originally produced by Stratford Festival, it is now presented in conjuntion with Soulpepper. For more information and tickets, click here.
People will tell you to bring your Kleenex when you’re heading out to a sappy movie. Most often I ignore the warning and while my eyes might water a bit, I seldom ever need a tissue.
I heard that warning when I went to Casey and Diana, but I knew I had three tissues in my purse and I was sure that was enough. Well, those Kleenexes were reduced to soaking wet wads by the end of act I. Fortunately, I saw an usher with a box of tissues and I made a beeline for it in the intermission. The several tissues I pulled from the box barely got me through act II. I have never cried so hard and so much in any film, and certainly not at live theatre.
The amazing cast of Casey and Diana drew me into the story and I felt I was there, both physically and emotionally. It is playing briefly at the Studio Theatre behind the Avon Theatre.
It was big news in October 1991. Diana, the Princess of Wales, came to Canada, and visited Casey House, a hospice providing end-of-life care to young men dying of HIV/AIDS. When Diana touched a patient, the world was shocked. Despite the deadly illness being visible for a few years, it was still believed that AIDS was spread through contact. Photos of her visit went round the world, and with that small gesture she did much to tear down the fear and hatred of young gay men who were HIV/AIDS positive.
This new play, based on that world-changing event, is having its première at the Stratford Festival. Playwright Nick Green takes that well-remembered moment and builds a story around it. Thomas has been living at Casey House the longest of all the patients there. He is very ill, his skin blotched with the ugly rash that comes with AIDS. He can barely walk and is in constant pain, and it becomes obvious that death is imminent. But Thomas is also the Princess’s biggest fan, and when he’s told the visit will be in one week, he vows to live long enough to meet Diana. The story begins with the big day, and then moves back a week to cover the various events leading up to the momentous occasion.
Green’s script is brilliant. The story is extremely well written and the dialogue is designed to pull in and melt the audience, making them feel they are at Casey House.
Sean Arbuckle is outstanding as the dying Thomas. He is at first ornery and perhaps not likable. But with Diana’s impending visit we see a kinder side, and eventually he feels like a close friend. Arbuckle can act like someone who is in pain who is acting as if they aren’t. He handles that double layer perfectly.
Looking after him is nurse Vera played by Sophia Walker. She is sassy, sometimes funny and often annoying. But Walker, too, builds in that double layer of acting because we know that she is dedicated and has a heart of gold.
Linda Kash is the too-cheery, often irritating but well-meaning volunteer at Casey House. She has her own reasons for helping out and oversteps boundaries. Kash is well known to Canadians as the Philadelphia Cream Angel, however, the role of Marjorie, the chipper helper, is her best yet. When the young André (Davinder Malhi) moves in, he detests Marjorie, but she keeps mothering him, when his own mother doesn’t. Malhi expertly portrays the young man angry about dying. Eventually he reluctantly accepts that he is in palliative care, and sadly has no visitors, no family, no friends.
Laura Condlln plays Pauline, Thomas’s sister. They were once close, but she abandoned him out of fear of AIDS and he is very resentful towards her. He refuses her visits but finally gives in. It is heartbreaking to see what AIDS does to families. Condlln perfectly depicts the relative who is out of touch with what’s really happening.
The part of Diana, played by Krystin Pellerin, is very Diana-like. Her role is minor compared to the rest of the cast. Pellerin gives us a perfect Diana: understated, shy, soft-spoken. Her reach, her touch, the lowering of her head, is all we need. Credit for this superior six-person play goes to director Andrew Kushnir.
This show is a must see for those of us who remember the horror of AIDS in 1991. If you don’t remember it, then it is absolutely a must see, a part of your education.
It is gut wrenching. So many young men were already rejected by the parents for being gay, then as they become ill, knowing they are dying, they reach out to their parents, and are again rejected. The heartbreak on this stage is palatable. Its not often you see a play that is brilliantly written, brilliantly directed and brilliantly acted, with such an important story to tell. In that moment in October 1991, Princess Diana changed the world’s attitude, not to mention the lives of many individuals.
During this run, for each ticket sold, $5 will be donated to Casey House.
Casey and Diana continues its short run at the Studio Theatre, Stratford until June 17. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival by calling 1-800-567-1600 or online at www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: 1.Sean Arbuckle (left) as Thomas and Krystin Pellerin as Diana. 2. Davinder Malhi (left) as André and Linda Kash as Marjorie in Casey and Diana. Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Casey and Diana
By Nick Green
Directed by Andrew Kushnir
Performed by Sean Arbuckle, Sophia Walker, Linda Kash, Laura Condlln, Davinder Malhi , Krystin Pellerin.
Studio Theatre, Stratford
June 1 to June 17, 2023 ONLY
Reviewed by Mary Alderson