August 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm (Life, My City) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

The only play I saw twice at the Fringe was Death: Live! Don’t you just love their logo. I’m glad I went at the beginning of the week because then I had time to enjoy the experience again. If I had the money & time I would have gone to every performance of this unique, wonderful play!

I’m not the only (morbid) one in the city who thought this way. When I saw the play at the beginning of the week, the auditorium was half full. By last night’s final show, they were sold out. Death: Live! was also mentioned first in the Star Phoenix’s reviewer’s top ten list yesterday.

It is a common fact that top ten lists are intriguing. I know that I, for one, love to compare my favorites with everyone else. And it seems that Death (itself) feels the same way!

As the audience enters the auditorium a white faced minion plays what to me sounds like processional music. The minion plays music for about ten minutes until we are all settled in.

Death enters on crutches, introduces himself and tells us that we are at a cabaret and that he wants to share with us what he considers the top ten deaths of all time. He addresses the audience, breaking the fourth wall, mentions the hot venue, and alludes to Facebook. The time and place are here and now.

Death contemplates how the world would be with no dying. He speaks of great necropolises of the old, the infirm, Ancients not dying. He speaks of purpose and regret; ask us why we are wasting this gift of life. He introduces us to his reanimated 2nd rate acting troop (2 males, 2 females).

Death asks us “if one dies alone and no one notices, did that person really live?” and my heart catches.

He hopes, for us, that of all our relatives and friends we will not be the last to die and I shiver in recognition at my unspoken fear.

The music rises up. The story begins. The opening starts at the beginning of time…

“I was born on the first day,” Death exalts in song.

The top ten list is introduced in dance and then each death is presented in turn.

1.) The Warrior (X) born 10,000 years ago is the mightiest of his tribe.  The drums beat, the warrior memorizes the face of each of his victims but, in the end, he loses his resolve and courage. X dies in the midst of battle. Death jokes that the moral of this story is “Don’t fight” as if he sees the hopelessness of admonishing humans in this manner.

2.) The Suicide Artist is a young emo teenager, just thirteen, who commits suicide by proxy as every time she tries to end her own life she only succeeds in inspiring other’s deaths. Her lover kills himself. Her father kills himself. Her aunt’s commune participates in a mass suicide. The girl herself, after her 3rd unsuccessful, paralyzing inducing try lives to be 108 alone and unloved.

3.) The Ruination of Victor (long Russian name that I won’t even attempt to spell) deals with a young Russian, Victor and his lover Evangeline. They are young and in love in Disco era Moscow when Victor goes north to make money so that they can start a life together. This is a story of obsessive, tragic love – very Russian.  He leaves for work, ultimately suspects her of cheating, returns home, eventually kills her and himself after he is proven wrong in his suspicions.

4.) Hypocrisy deals with the crazy world of politics in 1933. A young male reporter is out to prove the male mayor a philanderer/pervert unfit for office. Thus, he seduces Emma Rose, the mayor’s 15 year old daughter/lover, and tricks her into implicating her father. Both reporter and mayor are found guilty of crimes and die in prison because of their unethical behaviour.

5.) The Thirst profiles a father and son both struggling with and dying from the effects of alcoholism. It is a rowdy country western ditty that gets your toes tapping. This death hit very close to home for me. I understand intimately both the isolation and family separating effect that alcoholism has. Death here allows me to also see the seduction both alcohol and death can offer.

6.) The Lightening Horse is a brief tale of an accidental death caused by lightening. One of the minions wrote it and this story allows us, the audience, a glimpse into how Death interacts with his minions whom he is responsible for creating.

7.) The Medic recounts another battlefield. Here we have a more modern war and the medic is female. She dies from a broken heart not from loving one but from loving and mending and re-mending the broken bodies of the many young men and women entrusted to her care.

Following this story, we are asked to close our eyes and guided into a minute of silence. I’ll admit I seldom close my eyes in times like these (I worry I’ll miss something or that something bad will happen). Both times I went to the play this moment was respectful.

We are asked, during this moment of silence, to reflect on those who have gone before us, whom we think about or miss.

8.) The Apology. This is Death’s ballad. Here he sings of those we never got to say good-bye to, the nameless and the unremembered. I fear someday that this will be me, that I will die after all my family and friends; that I will die alone and unremembered. I write so that I will be remembered, if only by strangers.

9.) The Runner is set in 1924. A young man trains hard enough that he soon can outrun trains. He is the pride of his village and goes on to international fame. Just before the most important race of his life he lets his ego take over, parties too hard, loses the race and is expelled from home in disgrace.  Eventually he tries to once again outrun a train and comes in second, that is, he gets run over and dies.

10.) Loss of Purpose brings us back to the beginning. Here is our big Broadway finale. Here is the death of Death and we find out why even death can die. Death chose to die. He wished to be human, to belong somewhere. He has torn off his own wings – his magnificent, universe spanning, wings – and in doing so, hastened his own end. His story begins with “I was born on the first day” returning us to the beginning. At the end, even Death dies.

So, overall, what did I think of the play? It dealt with concepts and methods of death, not death of certain notable individuals, which was what I expected when I read the synopsis. The stories seem familiar. Are they historical stories? Is number 4 set in Chicago? Is the warrior Ghengis Khan? Is the runner an 1920’s Olympian?

The drama is male-centered. There is no death by childbirth. But there is also no notable death by old age and no alien death which leads me to the assumption that this incantation of death was only responsible for humans.

My favourite incantation of death is by Neil Gaiman though I am also drawn to Mort and death’s portrayal in this comic.

I loved this show. I wish I’d seen more than two performances. But then again, I love musicals and enjoy many diverse musical genres. This play showcases Broadway, country, and disco music as far as I could tell; parts were reminiscent of JC Superstar and Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat. I’d have bought a CD or DVD on the spot!

I will look for more work by this theatre group.

Yesterday, at the play, I sat and conversed briefly with another blogger. Her blog title mentions death and so I’ll give you a link.

I’m starting to think I’m not the only morbid human creature around here 🙂



  1. Beat Alcoholism 101 said,


    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. Wilma said,

    Thanks for the shout out & the link!

    I thoroughly enjoyed Death:Live! I thought they were an amazingly talented bunch of people & was thrilled to see the room packed for their last performance.

    Mayhaps if I had attended more than the final day of The Fringe, I could have seen more shows…

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