In the Wake of Wettlaufer

Tearing Families Apart

One of the most difficult tasks that falls on the shoulders of adult children is to decide on care for elderly parents.  Siblings can’t even agree on whether or not mom and dad need to move into a long term care facility.  A brand new play In the Wake of Wettlaufer on stage at the Blyth Festival examines the struggle to make that decision.  When they learn that a nurse was systematically killing off elderly people in long term care facilities, they are filled with regret.

The Wettlaufer referred to in the title is nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, a convicted Canadian serial killer and former registered nurse who confessed to murdering eight senior citizens and attempting to murder six others in Southwestern Ontario between 2007 and 2016.  She worked in several different nursing homes for the elderly.  She killed them by injection and is seen as one of the worst serial killers in Canadian history.  It is important to know that these were not mercy killings.

In 2016 she entered a drug rehab program where she confessed to her murders.  In court she admitted that she “knew the difference between right and wrong” but she was visited by “surges” she could not control.  “God or the devil or whatever, wanted me to do it,” she said. She was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care announced on the day of Wettlaufer’s sentencing that the provincial government would commission a public inquiry into her case.  The findings of that inquiry were made public July 31 this year, so Blyth’s play was literally up to the minute.

When this play was announced, Artistic Director Gil Garratt faced complaints from families of the deceased victims.  Other people said it was just too soon to produce a play as the public inquiry had not been completed.  Garratt assured everyone that it would be produced carefully.  And it is.  This is a gripping story.  It offers a very realistic view of a family deciding on an elderly father’s care.  It is also  educational regarding concerns about long-term care.

Four adult siblings – Mary from Victoria, Brenda from Halifax, John who lives in Kitchener, and Lynn who lives in London – have decided that Dad can’t live alone anymore, so he sells their childhood home, buys a house in London and Lynn moves in.  It isn’t long before he shows signs of dementia.  The four gather together and arguments about his care ensue.  Lynn is adamant he can go on living with her while the other three insist he be moved into a home.

The arguments are very human, typical of any sibling relationship.  On occasion the characters turn to the audience offering background information or personal insights.

Dad dies suddenly.  Then two years after the funeral, the four siblings get together to wrap up the will, another difficult task.  They are interrupted by a TV news report that Wetlauffer has been arrested for killing nursing home residents in the very place where they had put their father.  Their lives are torn apart, trying to ascertain whether or not their father had been murdered.

The five actors are well cast.  They completely draw us into the story, and we know each character individually.  Each personality is distinct and each actor presents the character perfectly.

During the inquiry scenes, actual recordings of real people present the shocking information.  The litany of Wettlaufer’s faults is appalling.  She had been disciplined and suspended many times for incompetence, maltreatment of residents and colleagues, and medical errors.

Playwrights Gil Garratt and Kelly McIntosh deserve credit for handling this very disturbing topic without malice or sensationalism, making it realistic. While family members may find it very difficult to relive, Garratt and McIntosh have tried not to be hurtful.

For those who enjoy a local touch, places provide some comic relief in this otherwise horrific story.  The on-going joke is that Seaforth is a suburb of Egmondville, where the family grew up.  They reminisce about going to Grand Bend and camping in the Pinery when they were young.

If you want a compelling story with familiar, realistic characters and brilliant actors playing the roles, then come see In the Wake of Wettlaufer.  While the details are disturbing, the need to protect elderly parents, and indeed our own futures, makes this mandatory for thought and discussion.

In the Wake of Wettlaufer continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival until September 6.  Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.

Photo: Robert King as Dad, and Rachel Jones as Lynn.  Photo by Terry Manzo. 

Click here to read the remarks of Commissioner Eileen Gillese on the release of the report of the inquiry:  Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-Term Care Homes System

Click here to read The Final Report and Recommendations prepared by the Commission (four large volumes).

In the Wake of Wettlaufer
By Kelly McIntosh & Gil Garratt
Directed by Gil Garratt
Performed by Caroline Gillis, Nathan Howe, Rachel Jones, Robert King, Jane Spidell.
Blyth Festival Production
Blyth Festival Theatre, Blyth
August 7 to September 6, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

 

 

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