New play for P.E.I. sheds light on Alzheimer's

Maureen Coulter comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on September 27, 2014

Marie, with her two eldest daughters, hears the results from her doctor that she is in the early stages of Alzheimerís. The play, Fading Away, traces the story of an Alzheimerís patient and shows how the disease affects her family and friends. From left are Sarah MacPhee, Barbara Rhodenhizer, Tamara Steele and Ellen Carol.

©THE GUARDIAN/Maureen Coulter

A new play, Fading Away, had its first performance to a near full house at the Victoria Playhouse in Victoria by the Sea, this past Sunday.

Tissues were handed out with the programs as the play is about Alzheimer's disease.

It was the first of three performances, with the next one happening at the Souris Show Hall on Sept. 27 and then in Charlottetown at Carrefour Oct. 3.

The 45-minute play traces the story of an Alzheimer's patient as the woman progresses from early signs to diagnosis. It also shows how the disease affects her family and friends.

"It's a very moving story. It's one that I think a lot of people will identify with because it is the journey of a lot of individuals and families," says the playwright.

Rosemary Nantes Vigeant wrote the play in 2007 with her drama students in Churchill Falls, Lab., and, after moving back to P.E.I. in 2009, brought the script to the Alzheimer's Society who loved the idea.

There are currently 2,346 people diagnosed with Alzheimer's on P.E.I. and those numbers are growing, she says.

"The statistics are a bit frightening so awareness is a very important thing. That is what this play does, it raises the awareness and it has an educational message too."

For Barbara Rhodenhizer, who plays Marie, the person with Alzheimer's, stepping in to the role was a challenge.

"I think the biggest thing is trying to be very honest about it. You don't want to be maudlin or to under value the severity of what this means to people."

This play means a lot to Ellen Carol, who plays the eldest daughter Kate as her own father is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's.

Playing her role was intense with trying to balance her emotions and the play, she says.

"It's really been a rollercoaster for me but a good one," says Carol, adding the role of Kate was very helpful and she learned a lot in the process.

"It has given me hope."

In the play, Kate is the primary caregiver to her mother, Marie. And it has offered Carol a glimpse into what her own mother is going through.

"It's helping me sort of figure out what she needs."

There are also a couple of scenes that really hit close to home, she says.

"A couple of scenes actually make me laugh because I've been going through it."

Vigeant says, though the play is a drama piece, there are a couple of light lines.

"Sometimes the only way to handle a difficult situation is to be able to laugh because if you didn't laugh you would cry."