Playwright: Colleen Murphy. At: Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company at Angel Island, 735 W. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: 866-468-3401; www.maryarrchie.com; $25. Runs through: June 28
The mistake that amateur shooters make, according to novelist Thomas Perry, is that they don't think beyond the moment of the kill, so that often they find suicide to be their sole escape from the chaos and confusion of deciding what to do next. The perpetrator of the 1989 "Montreal Massacre" embarked on his deadly rampage as a protest against feminismseparating a classroom of engineering students by gender, before executing the womenleaving him with no further ideological directive following his initial attack but to discharge his firearm upon himself.
The mess left behind is what Colleen Murphy explores in her microcosmic portrait of PTSD as communicable disease. The first victim of survivor's guilt, to use the more traditional term, is Jean Fournier, one of the young men dismissed by the self-proclaimed defender of masculine privilege. Granted a reprieve, Jean fled in terror; however, like most males in our culture, he later ruminates on whether he could have prevented the bloodbath, his hindsight giving way to recriminations over not having done so. Nightmares lead him to neglect his studies, to the dismay of his parents, whose concern exacerbates his inner conflict, until he is driven to seek solace in a solution serving to launch his mother and father on their descent into fatal despair.
Murphy recounts her fable in reverse chronological order over 90 minutes and eight scenes, beginning in 1992 with Benoit and Kathleen Fournier preparing to end their emotional pain, with the assistance of the kitchen gas stove. As they await unconsciousness, their conversation back-references objects and incidents marking the progress of their unhappinessthe unfinished architectural model standing crookedly on a side table, the many financial sacrifices necessary to pay for Jean's education, Benoit's affinity for ice fishing, a red Christmas parka.
Gradually, we come to realize that the journey to tragedy is composed of just such infinitesimal steps, and that the taking of a lifeeven one's ownonly perpetuates the suffering. Whatever considerations Benoit and Kathleen may have implemented in orchestrating their demise, there is still the latter's sister, who will arrive in the morning to discover her kin untimely deceased and her future forever scarred by the memory.
Under Patrick New's direction, Murphy's concisely written parable is rendered appropriately grim through the subtle nuances bestowed by Mike Speller, Rudy Galvin and Barbara Roeder Harris on dialogue as stark and commonplace as the Fournier's drab home decor. These make their lesson no less gloomy, but helps us to emerge wiser for having witnessed it.