Dead People's Things: the complexities of leaving things behind

Meaghan Chenosky & Eileen Barrett in Dead People’s Things. Photo credit: Tina Krueger Kulic, provided by Zee Zee Theatre Company.

Meaghan Chenosky & Eileen Barrett in Dead People’s Things. Photo credit: Tina Krueger Kulic, provided by Zee Zee Theatre Company.

Dave Deveau’s newest play follows the story and connection of Phyllis and Beatrice, two unlikely friends, brought together by an unlikely situation. Phyllis, a millenial vagabond, darkened free spirit type, sporting pre-ripped jeans and tequila always handy, and the only surviving member of her family, has inherited her recently deceased and estranged ‘Aunt’s’ belongings and home. Upon arrival she is greeted with a lifetime's worth of hoarding by a woman she never knew and Beatrice, a feisty and sharp tongued Baby Boomer, next door neighbour and companion to ‘Aunt’. As Beatrice and Phyllis, bicker, share tequila on the carpet, and sort through the mountain of ‘Aunt’s’ collected things, they not only begin discover a woman neither of them really knew, but explore some unwanted, uncelebrated and unknown parts of themselves, not without laughs, tears, and drunken rambles.

As Phyllis and Beatrice sort through her aunt’s belongings, they begin to put together an image of a person, that neither of them felt as though they really knew. They discover an unexpected legacy and surprising history of this woman by puzzling together photographs and seemingly meaningless junk. “Who were you?” Beatrice asks, as she looks at a photo of ‘Aunt’ in an earlier time, smiling joyfully, with hair down to her butt. Amongst bags of receipts, and empty margarine containers, there is a box of unsent birthday and holiday cards: Phyllis asks “What was it that stopped you from sending them?”. I thought about someone close to me going through my drawers, my belongings and my writing after I died. Would they feel as though they didn’t even know me at all?

As I ponder on my post-show apple, I start to think about the legacies we intend to leave behind, versus the one we actually do when we die. Did everyone that I love know that I loved them? Did I pet my dog enough? Did I laugh enough? Did I cry too much? I like to think every experience we encounter, no matter how trivial or difficult, has meaning and purpose in our life. However, this piece caused me to think about the unnecessary baggage I carry, physically and emotionally, that is hindering me. What legacy do I want to leave behind? I ask myself only to realize I don’t have a huge amount of control over that. We can only live our lives with the purpose we know how, but we don’t have much control over how that is perceived and remembered by others.

Deveau’s piece explores death in a rippling way, illustrating the surprising interconnectedness of varying human experiences. Phyllis and Beatrice’s relationship exists under an umbrella of a death, and it is ‘Aunt’s’ suicide, that pushes them to confront their fears of living. Through them sorting through what ‘Aunt’ left behind, Phyllis and Beatrice realize what they have left behind so far and what they hope to leave, if not for someone else, for themselves. Deveau almost creates a space where time stands still, where the history of ‘Aunt’, Phyllis and Beatrice all co-exist within the present moment, which is prompted by the rummaging of ‘Aunt’s’ hoarded belongings. A quietly simple production, which set mostly just consists of cardboard boxes, definitely stokes larger questions.

This piece was developed with the Playwrights Theatre Centre and produced by Zee Zee Theatre Company and directed by Cameron Mackenzie.