Tuesday, August 7, 2007

the secret life of the guy they named the hospital after

by Sharon Pollock

I drive past the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton almost every single day, and sometimes I go in to be poked or prodded or have my blood stolen from me, and every time I like to think and wonder about the man they named the hospital after. Who was he? What did he accomplish? What wonders did her perform for this community? Was he a kind man? A good man? (Was he pro-choice?) Reading Doc is an interesting experience for any resident of Fredericton because, as it turns out...

Dr. Everett Chalmers was kind of a dick.

See, Sharon Pollock was his daughter, and in this autobiographical play she tells the story of her parents' unhappy marriage, her mother's alcoholism, mental illness and infidelity, and her father's obsession with his work to the detriment of the entire family. This is a play about fathers who betray the trust of daughters, and of daughters left as the sole support for a disintegrating family unit. In this play, Pollock explores her father's addiction to work and his inability to accept his wife's alcoholism as an illness. She deals with her own feelings of betrayal and her father's feelings of alienation from her. In the play, Pollock's role is played by Catherine, who we see simultaneously as a child and as an adult. Catherine/Katie is putting together the pieces of her past from two perspectives, and looking to her father for answers.

Katie fears being like her mother, and Catherine wants to deny her connection to her father. In the end, though, both halves of this protagonist come to condemn the mother, Bob, as a weak woman who gave in to suicide and alcoholism. The central question of this play is Catherine trying to find out from her father if being worshipped by rural New Brunswick was worth the family torment -- and in the end, the answer seems to be yes, because by the end of the play Ev and Catherine are complicit in burning the suicide not of Ev's father and thereby silencing the voilce of all the troubled women around Ev. He finally supports and is supported by his daughter, and thereby seems to make some strides towards healing the familial rifts.

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