Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes
Cardiac Theatre at the ATB Arts Barns
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

A retrospective by GRAHAM HICKS,

If you missed Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes, performed at the ATB Arts Barns by the Cardiac Theatre company from Jan. 10 to 22, 2017, I’m sorry for you.

It was an intriguing one-man show. One live actor, Bradley Dore playing Peter Fechter, with three pre-recorded voices coming from strategically located loudspeakers in the PCL Studio Theatre. The voices were those of Peter’s mother, father and best friend, and almost as important to the show as Peter Fechter himself.

This intriguing theatrical experience was conjured up by leading young Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill.  Fechter is a true historical figure, who at 18 was one of the first East Germans attempting to flee from East Berlin to West Berlin across the recently constructed Berlin Wall in 1945. Fatally wounded by East German guards in the no-man's land along the wall, he bled to death over the course of an hour. Neither side came to his aid.

Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes is Tannahill's dramatic re-creation of what Fechter must have been thinking as he lay, unattended, in plain view of hundreds of East and West Germans, bleeding to death since each side feared the repercussions of heading out into the no-man’s-land and bringing Fechter to safety.

As Fechter slowly succumbs, he re-lives his recent past; the planning with his best friend Helmut to escape from East Berlin, family circumstances, parental relationships, the drama of the  escape attempt.

And as he comes closer to death, Tannahill gives Fechter’s character extraordinary extra-sensory perceptions as are often ascribed to dying individuals – the chirping of birds far, far away, the sound of a guard’s stomach rumbling off in the distance.

This production was poetic in nature – the physical set was rectangular with no boundaries between actor Dore and the audience on both sides of his space.  His location within the play’s context was determined by the voices and sounds coming from those strategically placed loudspeakers.

The breakfast scene, with Doug Mertz and Morgan Grau providing the voices of Peter’s dad and best friend, was eerily life-like, even though Mertz’s and Grau’s voices were pre-recorded.  Technically, it was a challenging chore well done, so well done that the audience could be forgiven for thinking Grau and Mertz were off-stage with microphones in hand.  Acoustically, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes was a tour de force.

As encouraging as being introduced to this fine young Canadian playwright,  at 28 with eight plays to his credit plus film and choreographic credits, was the introduction to two more talented young Canadian artists.

Judging from his mastery of this demanding one-man show, recent University of Alberta drama graduate Bradley Dore has a bright future. Had his performance been anything less than sterling, this show could have fallen apart in seconds. But it was a seamless intertwining of actor and acoustic technology.

Likewise director Harley Morison is a relative newcomer to the Edmonton theatre scene, also a graduate of the U of A drama program, with a growing number of well-received alternative-theatre directing credits and as co-founder of Cardiac Theatre, now three productions strong.

The talented Tannahill has been discovered, and is well on his way to joining the ranks of distinguished Canadian playwrights like George Walker, Judith Thompson, Brad Fraser and Wajdi Mouawad.

Keep an eye on all three: The future of Canadian theatre looks promising.