Lights is a relatable story about how families care for each other

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Lights | Touchstone Theatre | Firehall Arts Centre | December 2 – 12, 2021

“Do not let me stare at a picture and think it’s a window,” says Nancy (Susinn McFarlen) to her son. She worries that her Alzheimer’s will get so bad she’ll be placed in a dementia village where people look at pictures and think it’s the outside world. This concern for her future and resistance and denial of her condition is at the heart of Lights, a moving mother-son story about taking care of each other.

Adam Grant Warren’s Lights is Touchstone’s first full in-person production in almost two years. Directed by Artistic Director Roy Surette, it’s part of their Flying Start program that supports early career playwrights in producing their work. Warren stars as Evan who returns to his childhood home in Newfoundland just before Christmas to find his mother’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse.

When Evan’s girlfriend Sarah (Leslie Dos Remedios) joins him, they discuss what they should do about his mother—do they try to convince her to move in with them in Vancouver? Should they move to Newfoundland to be with her? Evan begins to lose sight of the person his mom used to be. As Sarah says, “Did you run across the country to tell her what you think is best?”

While Nancy’s dementia has phases of angry outbursts and she is constantly forgetting short-term information, there are also touching moments, such as her desire to keep hearing the story of how Evan and Sarah met. In this sense the dementia gives her a wise perspective: sometimes it’s nice to hear things again, she says.

With many comic touches and quickly moving dialogue, the writing moves the plot along smoothly for the most part. There are a few moments where the dialogue feels less natural, which could be the actors needing some more rehearsal time or it could be their lacklustre chemistry with one another, which at times felt strained.

On top of his mother’s dementia, Evan feels pressure to take care of her while trying to navigate her home in a wheelchair—to get up the stairs to the front door he crawls and pulls himself along with his arms, moving “like a snake” as his mother says. As she has been since he was young, she is determined that he should be independent and rarely makes changes to accommodate him. Instead of moving mugs to the counter, she leaves them in a shelf on the hutch and tells him he can reach them if he tries. It seems that her determination to remain independent herself translates to her feelings about her son’s need for independence more so than ever.

Set amidst a backdrop of the Christmas season, the family dynamics are heightened, and the implications of the near future feel ever more significant. While specifically about Alzheimer’s, Lights is deeply relatable in its themes about the way life changes as family members age and require more care and attention.

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