From the sidewalk outside Rochelle Rubenstein’s Studio (402 College St.), the audience is led along the alley and inside the wooden gates of a colourfully decorated garden, where we are greeted by two handsome, masked men (Christopher Sawchyn and Bruno Cunha); one offers two pieces of paper with questions and a crayon to write our answers, the other serves orange punch. Perched on the fire escape above us, Tracey Erin Smith, our host and guest of honour, sits masked and dressed in black, watching the gathering crowd. We are here to celebrate her last day of life. And she regards us like a fly on the wall at her own funeral.
From the garden, we are led into the studio to find a spot at one of the café tables as the Tango ensemble Payadora (Rebekah Wolkstein, Tom King, Branko Dzinovic & Alberto Munarriz) serenades us.
This is Memento Mori, a solo show written and performed by Smith, directed and co-created by Anita La Selva and produced by SoulOTheatre. The show is the culmination of a journey that started with the question: ‘What if I had one year to live?’ – which turned into a year-long experiment of bucket list activities, work on a troubled marriage and self-discovery.
With gorgeous scenic design by Adam Barrett, the space is full of orange flowers (Smith’s favourite colour?), pink and orange strips of cloth, and shrines honouring lost loved ones. Accompanied by the passionate music of Payadora and featuring Tango choreography by Sawchyn, Memento Mori is part memoir, part confession, part hero’s journey – all told with stories of family mythology, personal anecdote, mask performance, music and dance.
I was transported by Smith’s words, and I often found myself feeling like a little kid listening to story time – and Smith was the story lady, rabbi and shaman all wrapped in one. Highly engaging and entertaining, funny and sexy – the threesome, male/male and male/female Tango moments are hot! – our trip is over quickly and we’re all invited to join in the dance (to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”) as the ensemble takes their bows.
And the questions we were given at the beginning of the show?
What is one item on your bucket list?
What would you like to have happen at your funeral?
Memento Mori is a joyful, thought-provoking, singing, dancing, storytelling celebration of life!
The entire Toronto Fringe run of Memento Mori (on till July 13, with no show July 8) is sold out, but if you get to the venue box office early, you just might be able to score a ticket or two at the door.