Oceans Apart from the Truth

Ian Huffam

 

Returning home from war is a tough adjustment to make, no matter who or where you are. Oceans Apart is a show that understands this, but not much else.

I don’t usually do this, but some of my own personal backstory might help in this case. Both of my parents have been members of the Canadian Forces and seen active service overseas: my mother in Bosnia in 1996, and my father most recently as part of the last deployment in Afghanistan, which ended this past March. Both are areas of the world that have seen unforgivable atrocities and crimes against humanity, both were subject to years of military intervention, and both were far deadlier to the local populations than any UN- or NATO-backed forces.

Oceans Apart takes us into the mind of Patrick (Alain Chauvin, pulling double duty as actor and playwright), who has just returned from an 8-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. Patrick isn’t having the easiest time readjusting to life back home, and it’s clear that something happened in the line of duty that has left him shaken. It doesn’t help that his parents are so one-dimensional and bland that they only appear as voiceovers in the show. This leads him to take to the road in an atempt to let off steam and come to terms with what he’s experienced.

It’s once we come to this part of the show that the ignorance in the writing really shines through. While Patrick’s issues are quite in keeping with the experiences of real-life soldiers returning from war, it is completely unrealistic to believe that the military would just send him home and assume he’d be fine.

Perhaps I should explain more. Mental health treatment in the military has come a long way since the days of shell-shocked WWI veterans returning home unable to speak. At the end of every deployment, no matter where in the world you went, what you did, or what you saw, the military sends you and your unit to a nearby vacation area to decompress before rejoining society at home (my mother was sent to Dubrovnik and Budapest, my father to Cyprus, and when my uncle was deployed to Afghanistan immediately following 9/11, his decompression trip was an extended stay in Dubai).

Besides this simple courtesy, the Canadian military carefully maintains an environment of openness and trust when it comes to mental health treatment. Military personnel, by nature of their job, are often very familiar with the intimacies of their comrades’ lives and suggesting that someone see a counsellor is considered a genuinely helpful show of concern, rather than a dick move. Personnel on deployment are required to check in with a counsellor even after they return home. Once a soldier is back on home soil, reaching out for help is his/her own concern, but help is there for those who ask for it.

Anyway, Patrick drives across the country, alternating between appreciating the natural beauty of Canada and indulging in self-destructive behaviour. After a week he has driven from Ontario to the East Coast, and then to Saskatoon (which I suppose is technically possible, but still not very believable). In Saskatoon, Patrick meets the only other characters who get to be played by actors instead of voiceovers: his old bunkmate (Daniel Landry), recovering from having his leg blown off on tour, and the sister who takes care of him.

As the ministering sister Carol, Rebecca Laviolette is the only member of the cast who truly embodies the down-to-earth sense of acceptance that military family members often need. Her character is one who accepted her brother’s mortality before he left, and is determined to make the best of the situation before her. Landry’s character possibly has received counselling for his dismemberment, but still seems remarkably cavalier for a man who lost his leg only a few months ago. Chauvin takes a very dramatic tone of voice as he impresses upon you the seriousness of his situation, but his overemphasis on his dark and dire experiences lends a certain whiny air that doesn’t help you sympathize with him, as you are obviously supposed to. His characterization of someone who acts out irrationally while being controlled by a mental illness does ring fairly true to life though, because mental illness itself is irrational.

Chauvin’s writing maintains a very vivid and literary style that is pleasing to hear, although it may be better suited as a short story or novella. There are a few curious lines and references made, such as Patrick’s description of Carol as a “proper woman” (what does that mean?), as well as frequent references to the Canadian Bill of Rights, which has existed as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982. As well, Patrick often wonders about his brothers-in-arms who are still fighting, a theme that falls somewhat flat now that the conflict (at least as far as Canada is concerned) is over.

Portraying the struggle of those trying to adjust to everyday life after witnessing horrifying things is an admirable thing to do. Chauvin clearly hopes to send a message with this show, but it’s unlikely that anyone will listen until he takes the time to understand these experiences more intimately, perhaps through more research.

 

A Take a Jump in It Production

Written and directed by Alain G. Chauvin

Dramaturgy and additional direction by Catherine Ballachey

Featuring Alain G. Chauvin, Daniel Landry, Rebecca Laviolette

 

Upcoming Shows: (Venue #1: Arts Court Theatre)

 

June 26 @ 21:30

June 27 @ 18:00

June 28 @ 13:00