Dead People’s Things: dump ’em

Zee Zee Theatre is presenting Dave Deveau's Dead People's Things at Studio 16.

Eileen Barrett and Meghan Chenovsky at the end of Dead People’s Things, which is when things get more interesting.
(Photo by Tina Krueger Kulic)

This play contains one moderately interesting idea. It comes very near the end of the 95-minute runtime. It’s a long wait.

In Dave Deveau’s new script, Dead People’s Things, a young woman named Phyllis has inherited a house from her estranged aunt, who was a hoarder. When Phyllis shows up at the property, Beatrice, an older woman who was the aunt’s neighbour and best friend, greets her with the keys—and undisguised hostility.

Then the two of them duke it out about what to do with the aunt’s boxes and boxes of stuff. Phyllis wants to give it away, sell the house, and leave. But Beatrice is the aunt’s executrix and, according to the terms of the will, Phyllis can’t get any loot until she has fulfilled a number of conditions, including delivering the eulogy at the funeral.

So Phyllis stays, she and Beatrice go through the aunt’s belongings together and—of course—they become friends. If you’re a character trapped in this set-up, friendship with someone who initially appears to be your enemy is your inevitable fate. Deveau accelerates the process by having the two women get drunk together, which is also a cliché.

Basically, what we find out is that Beatrice loved the aunt and that, battered by losses, Phyllis is afraid of turning into her relative. None of this is affecting, however, because none of the figures allow emotional access: Beatrice is relentlessly mean for quite a while, Phyllis strikes me as shallow and whiny, and the aunt is a cipher.

Even when things get more interesting near the end, playwright Deveau overplays his hand: he should have let the play end on the strangely satisfying note of irresolution that rings in one of Phyllis’s monologues.

None of this is the actors’ fault. Eileen Barrett clearly means everything she says as Beatrice and Meaghan Chenovksy weeps credibly as Phyllis—although she is constantly brushing her hair out of her face, which drove me crazy.

Jennifer Stewart offers a striking set of piled cardboard boxes and craft paper and director Cameron Mackenzie creates a couple of arresting images.

But, for the most part, I just didn’t care.

DEAD PEOPLE’S THINGS By Dave Deveau. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre Production. Developed in association with the Playwrights Theatre Centre. At Studio 16 on Friday, April 19. Continues until May 5.Tickets.


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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