Daniel Brooks’ ‘Other People’ Is A Moving Meditation On The End Game


Daniel Brooks (Photo: Bronwen Sharpe)
Daniel Brooks (Photo: Bronwen Sharpe)

Canadian Stage / Other People, written and performed by Daniel Brooks, directed by Brendan Healy, Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theater, Mar. 20 to Apr. 3. Tickets here.

Actor, playwright, director Daniel Brooks is one of Canada’s great men of theater, with a reputation that stretches way beyond our borders. Brooks, 63, is also dying, having been diagnosed with terminal stage four lung cancer (and not from smoking, he assures us).

His new solo show Other People is defiant, courageous, gutsy – use any word you want – in facing death head on, but most of all, it is filled with wry wit and self-deprecating humor. As an audience member, I felt privileged to be there – to be admitted into Brooks’ intimate circle, as it were.

The structure of the play is built around Brooks’ ten-day stay at a retreat in Montebello, Quebec that practices the Noble Silence through meditation; in other words, no talking or communication of any kind. Brooks has gone to this retreat because he wants to “die well” – his words, not mine. He wants to shuffle off this mortal coil in peace, particularly for his two daughters, and he thinks mediation will be the route.

The other people of the title are his fellow retreaters. Because he can’t talk to them, he assigns them names, like Red Crocs and Fast Walker, and much of the play is consumed with his obsession with them.

Brooks is waiting for the “tingle” that means you have embraced meditation wholly, but it is a long time in coming. As a result, because he can’t dive deep into mediation, his mind is very active, and Other People is filled with the various places to which his thoughts wander, and the resulting insights he feels free to reveal.

Brooks’ playwright is Daniel MacIvor, another great Canadian man of theater, and a well-known collaborator of his. No wonder the script for Other People is so creative with these two brilliant minds working on the words.

There are some great lines like, the perks of having terminal cancer means his daughters answer his phone calls, and friends pick up the dinner tabs. Because “death is busy”, Brooks recites, with some degree of irony, a droll list of all the phrases that represent dying such as kick the bucket, et cetera. Brooks hates the words “bucket list” so much that he just wants to “puke in the bucket”.

Director Brendan Healy may have gone overboard at portraying Brooks’ nervous energy, but movement coach Adam Lazarus was at hand to bring realism to the runaway dancing and prancing. Brooks brings great humor to this physical aspect of the play, so we do sense that it helps lighten the mood.

Kimberly Purtell’s set is a simple raised platform with one chair, and a screen behind for occasional projections, like a picture of Brooks’ lungs. The raison d’être for the chair is that meditators who find it difficult to sit cross-legged on the floor can use a chair.

Purtell’s lighting for Brooks is a warm glow, but there are several occasions when the audience lights go on, when Brooks snaps back to reality. It all seems to be a very suitable setting for a man talking about the end game, along with Thomas Ryder Payne’s ambient sound design of background noises.

What Brooks does take away from the retreat is the guru’s admonition to find “equanimity” so he can live well now. The last we see of him is standing perfectly still as the lights fade.

Other People is an exceptional theater experience that you’ll never forget.

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Paula Citron
Latest posts by Paula Citron (see all)
Paula Citron
Latest posts by Paula Citron (see all)



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