A Mother & Son Journey
Remember seeing the number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan climb? Remember watching the news coverage of the hearses on the Highway of Heroes section of the 401, with people lining the overpasses to honour the war dead? It seemed like a regular occurrence between 2002 and 2011when we lost 158 young soldiers in the Afghanistan combat mission. Unfortunately, it seems to be slowly slipping from our memories.
A family in Wingham will never forget the loss of their son Matthew Dinning on April 22, 2006, at age 23.
Nor will the rest of us forget Matthew Dinning and his family, now that their story has been immortalized in the play Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning. It’s a well written, moving story by playwright Christopher Morris, who spent more than three years meeting with the Dinning family, putting it together.
Director Gil Garratt, also artistic director of Blyth Festival, has recreated this family on stage. On opening night, the real family (and other families who lost sons in Afghanistan) were in the audience watching their lives of 10 years ago. As a parent, I can only imagine their pain in reliving the loss of their son, and seeing the months before and after his death re-created. Garratt tells me the story is very accurate.
After losing Matthew, his younger brother, Brendon, decides to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces and wants to go to Afghanistan. A man from the military comes to visit the parents, Lincoln and Laurie Dinning, and asks them if they want Brendon to serve in Afghanistan. They are given the opportunity to have him turned down, unbeknownst to him. Lincoln, himself an OPP officer who served in Kosovo, is OK with sending a second son to Afghanistan. But Laurie does not want him to go. She decides to spend six weeks hiking the Camino Trail across Spain, taking Matthew’s ashes with her. During her journey she talks to Matthew, while trying to decide what is best for Brendon’s future.
The play moves back and forth in time and in geography. We are with Laurie on her gut-wrenching trip, then we are back with the Dinning family at their kitchen table. Matthew tells us about his time in Kandahar.
The show is well-cast: the audience is drawn into this family in crisis. A friendly neighbour and a Camino Trail hiker offer a perspective outside the family. J.D. Nicholsen is outstanding as the father, Lincoln Dinning. His tough-guy approach and stalwart, almost arrogant attitude are evident in the way he carries himself. Nicholsen captures the grief at the end of the eulogy, even though he starts by joking. Rebecca Auerbach as the mother, Laurie, makes her sorrow palpable in her heart-wrenching performance. The two sons Cameron Laurie as Brendon and Jesse LaVercombe as Matthew even resemble photos of the real Dinning brothers. Both give excellent performances. LaVercombe shows great skill in the scenes where he talks to his mother after he is dead. Catherine Fitch as the neighbour and Tony Munch as the trail hiker both offer some comic relief in an otherwise sad story.
The set is unusual, with the refrigerator, stove, microwave and sink all built on a slant, as if their world has ceased to be normal. And even though the kitchen leans, everything works – drinks are poured from the fridge, popcorn is made in the microwave.
Our Beautiful Sons is well written and well performed. It is a gut-wrenching story, putting every parent’s worst nightmare on stage. Congratulations to Blyth Festival for launching another world premiere – one which I expect to see on many more stages in the future.
Photo: On Left – Matthew Dinning.
On Right – from the Blyth Festival, Rebecca Auerbach as Laurie and Jesse LaVercombe as Matthew in Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning. Photo by Terry Manzo.
Our Beautiful Sons continues at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until August 6. Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.
Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning
By Christopher Morris
Directed by Gil Garratt
Performed by Rebecca Auerbach, Meghan Chalmers, Catherine Fitch, Cameron Laurie, Jesse LaVercombe, Tony Munch, J. D. Nicholsen.
Produced by the Blyth Festival, Blyth
June 15 to August 6, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson