Unveiling pain and healing. A theatrical journey into mental health

Pi Theatre is set to close its 2023-2024 season with the Canadian premiere of Medicine, by award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh. This production delves into the complex and often misunderstood world of mental health and institutionalization.

Medicine tells the story of John, a man living in an institution where local actors are hired annually to perform “drama therapy” by reenacting fragments of his life and trauma. This unique and chaotic setup brings to light the struggles and stigmas faced by those labeled as mentally ill. The play aims to serve as a poignant meditation on how society has historically approached mental health, combining humor and tragedy to explore these deeply human issues.

Photo courtesy of Pi Theatre.|

Richard Wolfe, the director of Medicine and artistic director of Pi Theatre, emphasizes the importance of this play in today’s context.

“We all have different situations and challenges, but sometimes it’s easy to detach a little bit emotionally from the urban environment and the social, geographical environment. I think this play will reattach us to the world around us,” says Wolfe. “The play is not really trying to teach us about mental illness per se. It is showing what happens when a person hasn’t been loved or looked after properly.”

Medicine runs from June 14 to June 23 at the Vancity Culture Lab.

The journey of healing through performance

The story of Medicine revolves around John’s interaction with local actors hired to conduct drama therapy. However, while this particular therapeutic approach is designed with the intention of helping John confront and process his experiences, it often leads to unpredictable and intense sessions that blur the lines between reality and performance.

Richard Wolfe, director of Medicine and artistic director of Pi Theatre. | Photo courtesy of Pi Theatre.

Throughout the play, the character of John serves as a powerful voice for those who have been marginalized by their mental health conditions and the institutions meant to care for them.

As Wolfe explains, the themes of the performance aim to speak to the duality of impact that people can have on one another, and the impact that can have on their mental health.

“The phrase that I came up with was that “people can often be the poison in other people’s lives, but at the same time, other people can also be the medicine.” It makes our lives beautiful,” he says.

Through John’s interactions and the unfolding narrative, the play highlights the profound impact of human connection and the healing power of empathy.

“We see the character’s history and how people have really hurt him, but then we also see a connection being made with another person, and we see that love, compassion and empathy are the true medicine,” says Wolfe.

Throughout the play, the performance deals with the implications of how society treats and outcasts people with mental illness. Wolfe hopes that this approach can ensure an authentic representation of the issues at hand and fosters a deeper connection with the audience.

Beyond that, Wolfe says that the panel discussion with mental health-focussed community partner, The Kettle Society, following the June 16 matinee performance, will provide an even greater perspective.

“This idea of removing people from society because they’re not well, whether it’s an addiction or mental illness, can be kind of cruel and probably harmful in some ways,” says Wolfe. “I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist, and that’s why we’re having these guests come in to talk about the current state of treatment.”

For more information about Medicine, visit: www.pitheatre.com.

Leave a Reply