Thoughts on Mental Health Care in Alberta Arising From a Conversation in an Edmonton Bowling Alley

Alberta Hospital Edmonton came up in conversation this evening at the bowling alley.

I might have said “depressing”. I’m not sure.

I want to make this clear:

The work and the staff and the patients of Alberta Hospital are NOT depressing. However flawed, the work is noble, the staff are heroes, and the patients are inspiring survivors.

Depressing beyond measure, however, are the decrepit, abandoned, flooded, ruined buildings, the burning-out (but still dedicated – and that’s uplifting, not depressing) staff, the invisibility to the wider Edmonton community of the patients at the Hospital, and, at the hellishly depressing root of it all, the despicable under-funding of mental health care in Alberta.

To Joanna, the young Nursing student to whom I spoke this evening, who works out in the community with a pretty cool dude who has a wicked spin on a bowling ball and a developmental disability . . .

You totally rock!

Maybe you find poetry hard. Maybe you wish you could read something other than text books. Maybe you don’t know how long you’ll last as a nurse.

But you sit there calmly and patiently waiting for DATS. Hoping your ride hasn’t left because you’re late by thirty seconds in a one hour window. Keeping things cool when transportation is a near-total unknown.You are 22 years old with absolute responsibilities for another human being the same age as you, responsibilities the vast majority of adults couldn’t imagine even if they had an awareness of AISH, PDD, FSCD, DS, and so many other acronyms.

You rock, Joanna.

You’re not depressing.

People aren’t depressing.

The mental healthcare system is depressing.

A F#%king Fine “Glengarry Glen Ross” at the Walterdale Playhouse

In his notes in the playbill for Edmonton’s Walterdale Theatre production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Director Curtis Knecht writes

These seven fine actors took to the script with a ferocious passion and their willingness to live in this world of bad men doing bad things to unsuspecting people was remarkable and thrilling to watch.

And it was a thrilling and remarkable experience to sit in the audience and watch these seven actors plunge into Mamet’s brutal, harsh text and bring these bad men and their bad world to tragic, destructive and self-destructive life.  I find it hard to imagine a group of actors making a better job of the thing. As I’ve consistently seen at the Walterdale, this is pure theatre: no elaborate sets, costumes or props. No distracting with or hiding behind flash.  Actors, gestures and words are the fundamentals, and the Walterdale Theatre delivers the fundamentals

Dale Wilson’s performance as the foul-mouthed (they’re all foul-mouthed) Willie Loman-esque aging salesman Levene is wonderfully natural and stirs warm sympathy despite the fact that the character is not actually what could be called a good man. He is the tragic heart of the piece, and from the opening scene Wilson makes us cling to Levene as a bit of hopeful light in the dismal world of Glengary Glen Ross. This attachment makes Levene’s downfall all the more shocking for us.

A second object of sympathy is J. Nelson Newa’s nervous and hesitant George, the junior salesman, a contrast to the aged senior Levene. The two are at opposite ends of their careers and yet face the same challenges and temptations.  Newa is absolutely natural in his performance.

Another standout performance in an evening of standouts was Cory Christensen’s spittingly enraged and frustrated Moss. It’s a smaller part than some of the others, but Moss is pivotal to the action and Christensen fills the stage and half of the house when he gets wound up. Intense, like everything about the play.

The play falls into two acts, the first in a restaurant, the second in a real estate office. The sets are basic and suitably evocative of place.  During the 20 minute intermission, the crew makes a choreographed change of set which is a fascinating bit of theatre itself, able to elicit a gasp or a startled jump in the audience. If you can manage to skip the bathroom break, you’ll have a small bonus entertainment.

The entire cast and crew is to be commended for their intense and professional performances, perhaps more remarkable in that they do the work not for money, but for love of theatre.  The fact that the volunteers of the Walterdale Company have taken on such a harsh, cut-throat, commission driven, capitalist world is a contrast not to be ignored. Yes, the human world can be selfish and brutal and Mametish, but, in the Walterdale Playhouse we are reminded that good and generous people also come together to make art purely to entertain and for the love of the thing.

The Walterdale’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross runs until April 16th, 2016. If you can handle coarse language and intense theatre, don’t miss it.