To Be or Not To Be?

Provocative and passionate, Judith Thompson’s The Thrill confronts life’s ultimate question

By Bob White

In her long and distinguished career, playwright Judith Thompson has never shied away from controversy. More often than not, her characters live on the edge: marginalized by the world at large, they are not only vivid representatives of just what’s wrong with contemporary society but also heralds of a world in which tolerance and social justice might trump greed, systemic hatred and our seeming headlong dash to embrace oblivion.

In The Thrill, receiving its world première at the Studio Theatre next season in a production directed by Dean Gabourie, Ms Thompson creates characters as vibrant, eloquent and passionate as any that populate The Crackwalker, White Biting Dog, Lion in the Streets and the many other plays that have earned her international acclaim, while boldly embracing a debate that has generated much heat in recent years.

Elora Dixon, a severely disabled rights activist (played by Lucy Peacock), finds her life profoundly changed when she encounters Julian Walker (Nigel Bennett), a popular spokesperson for the right-to-die movement. Elora sees Julian’s philosophy as a direct threat to the lives of all who are born like her: physically challenged but capable of living rich, fulfilling lives nonetheless.

Ms Thompson possesses an uncanny ability to zero in on issues and situations that are of the moment yet universal in their import. Her play inevitably brings to mind the case of Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer who caused the death of his cerebral palsy-stricken daughter, galvanizing the country into argument about whether the act was murder or mercy killing. And while most of us would rather avoid thinking about the challenges of dealing with, say, the declining health of our parents, The Thrill reminds us of the thorny moral conundrums with which we all must wrestle on life’s journey.

Leavening the presentation of this highly sensitive material is Ms Thompson’s wonderful sense of humour. While clearly she agrees with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, she and her characters often laugh and share the joy associated with life’s absurdities and ironies. And it is this warm passionate embrace of life that makes Judith Thompson’s work so appealing. The Thrill will undoubtedly provoke reflection, debate and strong feelings; audiences should also look forward to experiencing a visceral, yet celebratory, vision of what it means to be human.

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