Waiting Room is the latest theatrical offering by playwright, author and actor Diane Flacks. The powerful drama examines medical diagnosis, prognosis and uncertainty, and runs from Jan. 14 to Feb. 15 at Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace.
For Flacks it’s a personal story, although not autobiographical. Her youngest son, Jonny, now eight, spent much of his life at The Hospital for Sick Children until he was four.
“It is a rare club that you end up belonging to if you are a hospital veteran,” says Flacks, who along with her spouse, Janis Purdy, also has a son Eli, 12.
“By being in that place and meeting the people we met, I felt like I had a lot of stories to tell and a lot of experience balancing on a precipice of life and death. I had luckily never experienced this until that point.”
She says many people who go through something difficult go to therapy, whereas artistic people end up acting, writing or creating something.
“What the patient in this story has is not remotely connected to what Jonny had as a condition, but I was really fascinated with the struggle that a couple goes through in a hospital,” she says.
“I was also, at the same time, reading a lot about brain science, so that’s why I focused the story on a doctor and on the brain, and the irony that a doctor who treats people with brain conditions develops a brain disease. I thought that would be an interesting dramatic struggle to put him in and to put his patients in.”
Flacks approached Tarragon’s artistic director, Richard Rose, with her idea about the collision of human beings with medical realities, as well as the medical system and its relevance to all of us. Rose commissioned her to write it.
Flacks, who has written or co-written a dozen plays to date, teamed up with director Richard Greenblatt on Waiting Room. The two have worked on seven projects before as either co-actors or co-writers. This is their second time as writer and director. “I am really grateful to Richard because he is so respectful of the writing process and has so much to offer.”
She hopes Waiting Room will start conversations about end-of-life care and what we expect from our doctors and nurses. She also hopes that audiences will ask and wonder about medical compassion and ethics and how they would cope.
The cast of Waiting Room includes Ari Cohen, Michelle Monteith, Jordan Pettle, Warona Setshwaelo, Jane Spidell and Jenny Young. Flacks says she is in awe of these actors and their commitment to the play.
She decided not to perform in the play herself. “Sometimes if you know you are going to play a character, you kind of write that for you. I wanted to write characters that would be challenging and, in my mind, beyond what my capacities are as an actress, so that it would be really challenging for anyone.
“From my perspective, I wanted to be on the outside and be able to see problems, as it is my responsibility as a writer to take that job on directly and fix them.”
Flacks says being Jewish influences every part of her art. She went to the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, and says the kind of rigorous academics that were required there are part of everything she does today.
Her past credits include critically acclaimed solo shows Myth Me, By a Thread, Random Acts and Bear With Me. She has written and performed in theatres in Canada and the United States. She has also written for and appeared on numerous Canadian TV series including The Kids in the Hall, for which she was nominated for a writing Emmy.
She is Nightwood Theatre’s 2014 playwright-in-residence and is working on a new play about women and religion called Unholy. Currently, she can be heard as CBC Radio’s national parenting columnist. Her book Bear With Me: What They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy and New Motherhood was published by McClelland & Stewart. On the acting front, she is working with Katie Ford on a theatre piece called Bits and Pieces, which she will perform this spring. n
Tickets can be purchased through Patron Services at 416-531-1827 or online at: www.tarragontheatre.com.