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“Other People,” Daniel Brooks, brilliant and moving

An unforgettable experience last night: a haunting piece of theatre. Ruth and I went to see the one man show Other People, written by and starring Daniel Brooks. There’s an extraordinary backstory to this event: 63-year old Daniel, one of Canada’s best-known and most experienced playwrights and directors – and a non-smoker – has been diagnosed with Stage 4 – terminal – lung cancer. 

Most people facing death would withdraw, conserve their strength, make peace with the world. Daniel wrote a play and stars in it, alone on stage, talking for a hour and 45 minutes. It’s a tour de force of acting, but also of writing, of thought, humanity, depth. He tells us that in order to learn how to die peacefully, he went to a 9-day meditation retreat in Quebec, and the play is about that experience, day by day, but also much more, including his thoughts on Claude Monet, Primo Levi and the Holocaust – Brooks is Jewish – and Tolstoy. And his family, his two daughters, his lover, his friends. And especially lots about the other men at the retreat, who become real to us too and who drive him crazy. “Hell is other people,” said Sartre, obviously behind the title. Brooks talks about a school of fish, “a murder of crows, an annoyance of people.” And yet, in the end, the annoying others turn out to be struggling seekers, just like him. 

There’s no catharsis, no sudden understanding of what it is to be alive, what it means to die. Just a man doing his best to understand himself and the world. At the end, he is struggling still. He brought tears to my eyes and Ruth’s, and she’s not a weeper like me. She loved it too.

Brooks early on lets us know he had a difficult childhood. He regresses several times to the abandoned and maltreated seven-year-old he once was, and somehow, throughout, he is still that boy. And yet he’s the man we see working with such skill on the stage. He thanks us for coming to be with him; the lights go up sometimes on the audience, and then back down. The lighting and sound are subtle supports, but mostly it’s this man and his powerful words and face. 

One thing made us laugh. He is so neurotic and cerebral and competitive, I said to Ruth at the end, The message here is that Jews should not go on meditation retreats. 

What theatre does best, when inside that dark room you encounter another human life that touches and enlightens you, so that when you leave, you’re bigger. I felt bigger. He gave us a great gift. Thank you, Daniel Brooks. May you find the peace you long for. 

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

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