Falling Slowly: Tristan Sturrock's Mayday Mayday

Tristan Sturrock lies onstage on his back, his image reflected back at the audience twofold through the use of a mirror. For a minute we cannot tell where his actual body is. He seems to be suspended in space, floating. This strong visual begins the artfully crafted Mayday Mayday, Sturrock's one-man show done with Theatre Damfino about his neck-breaking fall on Mayday in 2004. Sturrock's virtuosity as a performer blends perfectly with the wonderful staging to make this latest St. Ann's Warehouse offering work.

From the opening moment of Mayday Mayday on, the audience is in for an impressive story about one of those moments in life that can change everything. As Sturrock narrates his fall off of a wall during the Mayday celebration, his use of the stage and his virtuosity as a storyteller and performer takes us on this journey with him. One-man shows always run the risk of being self-centered in a way that can alienate audience members, but Sturrock's tone and his amazing avoidance of self-pity in a difficult situation allowed me to connect to this story by living it along with him.

I also want to take a second to acknowledge Sturrock, and his wife and director Katy Carmichael, for making a piece in which they have to relive one of the hardest moments of their lives. In fact, not only are they reliving it, but Sturrock is actually physically reperforming parts of it. As his body is lying on the stage, positioned as he remembers it being after his fall, one cannot help but wonder how it feels emotionally and physically.

Carmichael addresses this in a note in the program when she writes, "I watched this story unfold in stark reality and my memories are different...Now I'm a bystander again, only this time I'm watching the story unfold on stage. Tris is playing 'fallen man;' we can change the lights, choose the music, edit his script, take control. Most importantly he can get back up again. Something that on May 1st, 2004 I thought would never happen."

I quote her at length here because Carmichael's story, along with that of Sturrock's surgeon, Tim Germon, who has a note and bio in the program, are integral parts of the piece as a whole. Sturrock plays these characters as well, embodying the people who became a part of this event both before and after it occurred. Even when they are not being portrayed, these two individuals are everywhere in Mayday Mayday.

The term embodiment keeps coming up. And how could it not? This is a story about a man, an actor, who was used to relying on his body. Suddenly he is not sure he will ever be able to walk again or feel his limbs or move his head. Yet he does not tell us these things, but rather shows us projections, reenactments, models, and narrates the details of his experience. He speaks of the ceiling tiles in the hospital, and shows us the two options he had for how to deal with this particular break.

Indeed, the only time the show feels precious at all is at the very end, when Sturrock simply thanks all of the people who helped him survive this trauma. Of course, by this point, we're ready to thank them too, and I can understand why we end where we do. So if you like solo performance, beautiful staging, and good storytelling, then Mayday Mayday is for you.