Fringe Review: Victoria retreat inspires entertaining Medicine

The Times Colonist is covering the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, running to Aug. 31. All ratings are out of five.

What: Medicine

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Where: Langham Court Theatre

When: Aug. 26, 28, 29, 30, 31

Rating: 5


Already King of the Monologue on the Canadian fringe theatre circuit, Vancouver’s T.J. Dawe just gets better and better. And given the excellence of his past work, including Lucky 9 and The Skipknot, that’s a remarkable thing.

Making its Victoria Fringe debut is Medicine, Dawe’s strange and fascinating tale about taking an Amazonian drug concoction, ayahuasca, in a yurt outside Victoria 3 1/2 years ago. It was part of a week-long therapeutic retreat conducted by Gabor Maté, a Canadian physician specializing in addictions treatment.

Dawe, invited by Maté, wasn’t battling addiction. But he was curious about feelings of isolation and disconnectedness he’d had his whole life. Ayahuasca, if administered in the right surroundings, is said to be good for dredging up buried memories and triggering visions in a therapeutic manner.

Over a week, Dawe downed the drug — twice. The first time he had a horrible experience: awful dry heaves (amusingly acted out in the show) and increased feelings of aloneness. The second time it worked, however. Floating on nausea-free cloud of bliss, Dawe revisited a repressed memory about an accident that occurred when he was three years old. Overall, the whole psychedelic-drugs-in-a-yurt experience was revelatory.

A nebbish-looking character in dark clothes against a black backdrop, Dawe has developed into a master storyteller. In Medicine, the material is intensely personal — he reflects often on his repressed Catholic upbringing (his father was principal of a Catholic school, his mother was a former nun).

To counteract that, he offers tangental diversions — sort of emotional pallette cleansers — intended to offer relief: riffs on the illogicality of typewriter key lay-outs, the months of the year and the alphabet. Dawe also leavens the heaviness of his story with a dry sense of humour (he notices one of the shamans at the retreat, far from being a South American tribesman, is some dude from Coquitlam).

Dawe has always been a strong performer; however, over the past decade his acting abilities have improved. He now switches back and forth between characters expertly, clearly delineating each with subtle shifts.

In Medicine he examines his psyche fearlessly, combining the objectivity of a documentary-maker with the artistry of a sharp-eyed novelist. The results are almost breath-taking. This monologue is so entertaining, the 75 minutes seem to melt away in no time.

More Fringe coverage HERE

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