Glendon theatre instructor Aleksandar Lukac (MFA ’95) is the director of a new play that deals with the difficult topic of assisted suicide. The play, titled BEA, is presented by the Toronto-based Actors Repertory Company (ARC). It explores the dialogue surrounding terminal illness, human dignity, compassion, the right to live, and the right to die. It was written by UK playwright Mick Gordon.
The play’s central character is Bea (Beatrice), a young woman struggling with a debilitating disease. Her story is beautifully and respectfully shaped by the real choices and outcomes faced by the terminally ill and their loved ones.
“What drew me to Bea was the originality of Mick Gordon’s script. He has managed to approach a subject that seems virtually impossible to stage, in an incredibly creative and inspiring way,” says Lukac. “It allowed me, and my extraordinary cast, to explore the very complicated discourse on assisted suicide while maintaining a high level of theatricality.”
During rehearsals for BEA, Lukac said he was amazed by the many connected stories that were brought forward by cast members and crew. “We found ourselves immersed in the reality of how many people around us were dealing in some way with issues of extreme disability, related depression, and the ultimate lack of understanding when it comes to a patient’s will to leave,” he said.
Directing the play was challenging, he says, in that there was an important need to approach with sensitivity and empathy the difficult subjects contained in Gordon’s script. “There were two major challenges – one, to address the issues with the human dignity they deserve and, subsequently, to keep our emotions in check once we found it,” he said.
Working with a talented cast, Lukac has brought Bea’s story to life. Bahareh Yaraghi plays Beatrice (Bea), the young woman with a chronic condition that has left her bed-ridden for eight years. The role is extremely demanding because Yaraghi must reflect the physicality associated with constant care that Bea requires to survive. Someone else has to feed her, wash her, dress her. Deborah Drakeford is Bea’s mother, a protective barrister who hires Ray, played by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, as her daughter’s new caretaker. In Ray, Bea finds a friend and confidant, who helps her as she lives with her illness and supports her as she wrestles with an almost unimaginable decision.
As part of the production, ARC hosted a panel discussion May 12 on the difficult ethical and moral issues raised in BEA, such as patients’ rights and assisted suicide. Together with Lukac, the panel provided a forum for the audience to explore and engage with the issues covered in the play. The panellists in dialogue with Lukac were Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Joan Gilmour, an expert in the legal governance of health care, torts and disability; palliative care physician Dr. Sandy Buchman, who is the education lead at the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Hospital; and Ken Gallinger, an ethics columnist writing for the Toronto Star newspaper and former minister with the United Church of Canada.
“Their reactions and comments were remarkable – as it seems that the production managed to address the very essence of the personal issues regarding assisted suicide,” says Lukac.
Lukac is a course director in the Theatre Studies Program at Glendon College and a contract faculty member in the Department of English in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University. He is also the internationally acclaimed former artistic director of the National Theater Belgrade and six-time winner of Best Director at The Festival of Serbian Theatres. Other credits to his name include: ARC’s Family Stories – Belgrade; the Hong Kong Idea Festival bound Unicorn Horns; and the Company of Sirens’ Black Magic.
BEA has received a 4N top rating and was selected the critic’s choice by Now Magazine. The play is the culmination of the company’s 2012-2013 season. It runs until May 26 at the Factory Theatre Studio, 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide), in Toronto. To purchase tickets and learn more about show times, visit the Factory Theatre website, or call 416-504-9971.
Actors Repertory Company is one of Toronto’s oldest actor-led theatre companies. It presents an annual season of contemporary international theatre that explores relevant global conversations from diverse perspectives.
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor. Video and image courtesy of the Actors Repertory Company.