By Diva Heather Boa
BLYTH – Through the actors on stage at the Blyth Festival on the opening night of Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning, I saw the Wingham family in the aftermath of the death of 23-year-old Corp. Matthew Dinning, who, along with three other Canadian Forces members, died in 2006 when the armoured vehicle they were travelling in struck an IED in Afghanistan.
In this world premiere, the powerful, raw, honest and incredible personal true story of how mother Laurie (Rebecca Auerbach), father Lincoln (J.D. Nicholsen), youngest son Brendon (Cameron Laurie) and even the widowed neighbour Gail (Catherine Fitch) dealt with the grief, guilt and memories of their loss is laid bare for all to see.
The story begins after a military official comes to the house to inform Laurie and Lincoln Dinning that they have final decision in whether their only living son, Brendon, can also join the military. From the start, there is conflict and recriminations between the couple; their son had already told his dad but not his mother. They are opposites. Laurie is fiercely determined, protector of family and private in nature. Lincoln is laid back, social and open, with a penchant for humour. They are a family of few words and little physical demonstration of affection.
Ultimately, Laurie takes some of her son’s ashes and hikes the El Camino, an historic pilgrimage route, to come to a decision on Brendon’s future.
Along the way, Auerbach portrays a woman – a mother and a wife – who is a soldier unto herself, demonstrating resolve, reason, conviction, loyalty as she struggles between the guilt of allowing a son to go into conflict knowing that he may die, and interfering in the will of a young man.
As I watch the play, I feel the heavy responsibility on playwright Christopher Morris and director Gil Garratt to tell this story just right. But during intermission, my companion tells me that the actors have captured the essence of the Dinning family members. She imagines they spent time with the family in order to mimic gestures and nuances.
She introduces to me to Lincoln, who tells me the play is true to what really happened. Maybe there’s a bit more arguing in the play, maybe it’s a bit more dramatic than it really was, he says, but it’s a play, after all.
To give the impression that this play is cluttered with arguing and recriminations would be wrong. It is also punctuated by humour, thanks to American traveller Mario (Tony Munch) and his run-on stories, a scene that involves a bag of frozen peas, and a rather tell-all sign Lincoln displays at the airport when he picks her up after her long absence.
Our Beautiful Sons is important to the local military heritage but it is bound to resonate for any military family that has suffered a loss. And, sadly, we have many across this country.
Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning plays at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until Aug. 6. Tickets (Adults: $31 regular, $35 preferred; youth: $15. All orders subject to $6 handling charge) Are available by calling the box office at 519-523-9300 or toll free at 1-877-862-5984 or online.