Vancouver playwright Cheryl Mullen presents Is That All There Is? as part 0f TheatreOne’s Emerging Voices series. (Photo courtesy Trevan Wong)

Caregiving experiences inspire playwright’s work

Cheryl Mullen presents staged reading of ‘Is That All There Is?’ in Port Theatre lobby Jan. 14

In the last year of her mother’s life, Cheryl Mullen was in and out of hospital with her as her mother’s physical health deteriorated. Mullen even ended up adopting her mother’s pet parrot of 26 years, who died 10 days after her mother in 2016.

During that time, the Vancouver playwright was “dumping” her thoughts on the page in an act she described as “pure therapy.” The result was Is That All There Is?, a play inspired by her experience caring for her mother.

“A lot of people are writing plays about their very sad voyage with their parents through Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Mullen said. “This is a flip. This is a keen mind with a body that’s letting go. It presents its own complexities.”

After her mother died, Mullen put that script away for three years until Nanaimo dramaturge Nicolle Nattrass, a friend from the West Coast theatre community who had read her work, asked her about the play, which motivated her to dig it out of the drawer.

“When I said, ‘How is the play?’ the next day she’s like, ‘I’m doing a whole re-write. I’ll have it to you by Monday’ and I was like, ‘Right on,’” Nattrass said.

“I just ripped the whole thing to shreds and rebuilt it,” Mullen said.

It’s that rebuilt third draft that she will present in Nanaimo on Jan. 14 as part of TheatreOne’s Emerging Voices staged readings series.

Mullen said it was beneficial to return to the script with a new perspective.

“I was able to go on tangents with it and make sense of things a whole lot more and realize what a profoundly important piece that leading up to her death was to me and to her. And so it got emotional in a way but it’s a more rounded emotion that you feel rather than the raggedy, jaggedy rough edges of something that’s just happening,” she said. “So I think a person becomes a little bit more philosophical about actually what the relationship was with the parent when you’ve stepped away for a while. That it was incredibly profound and deep and complex.”

The play has some fantasy elements when Mullen’s mother’s character takes too much morphine and hallucinates.

“My mother, this is the true part of the story, would not relinquish any control of what drugs she took or how she took them,” Mullen said.

It’s in those altered states that her daytime TV comes to life and Albert Einstein drops by to discuss philosophy. It’s also when she has meaningful conversations with her parrot, which is played by an actor.

“We get the dumb parrot in front of the family, just repeating words and stuff,” Mullen said. “And then we get this being that knows a lot about the big picture of life, about also letting go and entertaining the possibility of death and afterwards.”

At the staged reading Mullen is hoping to get a sense of how the words sound when spoken by actors and she’ll be looking out for what “clunks,” “doesn’t ring true” or seems “forced or artificial or confusing.” She said she equates the process to chipping away at a sculpture.

“We’ve got the statue,” she said. “But the detail work, that where I’m at.”

WHAT’S ON … TheatreOne’s Emerging Voices series presents Is That All There Is? by Cheryl Mullen at the Port Theatre lobby, 125 Front St., on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Admission by donation.



arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo theft victim confronts suspects with baseball bat

Nanaimo RCMP seek identity of two people alleged to have used a stolen credit card

VIU professor concerned about myths around insect apocalypse

Jasmine Janes’s work published in peer-reviewed journal BioScience

Clerk bruised, traumatized after armed robbery at Quarterway Liquor Store

Few details on male suspect in Wednesday incident, says Nanaimo RCMP

VIU Mariners teams back on home court

Volleyball, basketball teams hosting action all weekend at Vancouver Island University gym

City of Nanaimo reaches settlement with fired chief operations officer

Brad McRae had launched human rights complaint after being fired while on medical leave

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Beefs & Bouquets, Jan. 16

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

One last blast of winter tonight for parts of the Island before temperatures on the rise

A snowfall warning is in effect Friday including east Vancouver Island.

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky B.C. ferry sailing

The Nimpkish docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

B.C. pair ordered to pay $55,000 for oil tank discovered four years after selling home

Judge says defendants breached contract, despite being unaware of tank until basement flooded

Most Read