Fringe review: ‘Dying Hard’

Dying Hard, A Vagrant Theatre, Newfoundland, Canada. Patrons’ Room, 60 minutes, $10. (Discounts: Seniors and students.)

By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater

There’s a gem of a drama inside Dying Hard, Mikaela Dyke’s one-woman show, which she created from the verbatim oral histories of fluorspar miners and their wives in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland during the 1960s. Lung cancer struck and killed many of the miners in that tiny town, on the border of Labrador, and Dyke has gone to those men’s accounts, and the accounts of their wives, to show the horror of a disaster that took the lives of men working the only job they could.

Mikaela Dyke

Dyke, a slim, pretty young actor from Toronto (and a native of Newfoundland), transforms herself into six varied characters, from an elderly geezer with no apparent teeth to the proud, graceful widow of one of the men. As they talk, you forget that you’re watching a barefoot actor in black sweater and blue jeans, and you get the sense of a self-sufficient people who don’t complain. “You’re dying, you know,” one of the men says. “You’re dying; you got to put up with it.”

There’s an astounding lack of complaint, even among those who know their days are numbered. Listen to a cheery, self-possessed man named Kevin: “The best time I ever had was mining,” he says. And even though there are clouds on both his lungs, he says, “I guess I’m pretty lucky so far.”

Unfortunately, Dyke’s Newfoundland accents are sometimes impenetrable to southern ears (the first man, in particular, sounds as if he’s speaking in a different language), and she doesn’t always project well enough to make her characters heard. When the widow Rebecca Flynn speaks of the place she lives, she says “It’s still his house” — even after her husband has been dead for a decade. She’s not alone: Every one of these voices deserves to be heard.

Remaining shows:
Sunday May 22, noon
Monday May 23, 5:15 p.m.
Friday May 27, 7 p.m.
Saturday May 28, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday May 29, 2:50 p.m.

2 responses to “Fringe review: ‘Dying Hard’

  1. Great review of an excellent show, Elizabeth. (I saw it—multiple times—last year at the London Fringe Festival.) Remarkable people and a remarkable production; Pat Sullivan’s story, which leads off the show, is worth a second viewing to pick up anything you might have missed.

    The original interviews by Elliott Leyton were published in a book that’s available from Boulder Publications (and on Amazon et al).

  2. Rory Trumbore

    See this show.
    Most of Fringe is merely good natured horsing around. Froth and fluff that fades away.
    Then there are shows like ‘Dying Hard’ (or ‘Pink Smoke in the Vatican’ or ‘Mine’) that you will remember forever. The subject is important and the acting is intense while matter-of-fact; believable.

    Sit in the front row* and look into Ms. Dyke’s eyes. Pat Sullivan will be looking back.

    *Always a good idea within the challenging acoustics of the former planetarium.

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