The choice, not the motive. This is the pivotal point of Emil Sher’s wrenching drama “Mourning Dove,” about a father’s decision to end his 12-year-old daughter’s constant pain by ending her life.
The drama, which began as a radio play when the Robert Latimer case was front-page news, closely parallels the circumstances of that case: The Saskatchewan farmer is nearing the end of his 10-year sentence for the mercy killing of his severely disabled daughter. However, it differs from reality in one significant aspect: Latimer has never given any indication that he doubted he was right in choosing euthanasia.
By contrast, Doug, his alter ego in “Mourning Dove,” is the personification of conflict. Capturing every aspect of the despair and grief for the disabled child whom he loves but cannot rescue from unending pain and daily seizures, Timothy Webber is tight-lipped in his suffering. He doubts the value of the major operation that Tina — whose presence onstage is through her labored breathing only — is about to undergo. He has lost faith in divine intervention. He has more and more difficulty watching the child’s suffering.
While he builds an ark and prepares a puppet show to entertain his daughter, he also collects the equipment to kill her. He begs his disabled friend and fellow performer, Keith, to tie him up in a twisted position, so that he can experience some of Tina’s excruciating pain.
But, as his wife, Sandra (a beautifully nuanced performance from Kate Hurman), says, no rope can duplicate the child’s unrelenting torment.
Eventually, he does as Latimer did, but not without wishing he had ended his own life at the same time.
The issue at the center of “Mourning Dove,” as in most cases of euthanasia, is whether the choice was purely to end the child’s pain or partly to end his own.
Sandra, who faced the same desperate choice a year earlier, could not bring herself to kill, even for the best of reasons.
Meanwhile, Keith — such a convincing portrayal of a physically and mentally disabled person from Ben Meuser that it is something of a shock to see the change in his appearance during the curtain call — represents the value of any life at any level.
In his sensitive production of this outstanding drama, director Lorne Pardy handles the balance of the pros and cons of mercy killing with the same delicacy as the playwright.
The play doesn’t set out to answer the unanswerable question of what any of us might do in the same situation. It does warrant many more productions and subsequent discussions.