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A different story of death and devotion

Manu Keggenhoff photo

By Amy Kenny

Not many love stories start out six feet under, but that’s where The Resurrectionists begins – knee-deep in graverobbing.

The idea came to Calgary playwright Meg Braem years ago, after she heard a presentation on the history of medicine at Queen’s University. Initially, the part that captured her imagination was finding out how medical students in the 1800s found their anatomical material. The love story (and the feminism) came later, as Braem was researching the era. That’s when she found out how hard it was for women to get into universities at the time. 

“There was a certain point, where women were allowed in, I think it was three years, and then they were bullied out,” says Braem. “So when I was looking at the story, I was like, ‘what if? What if these two things were together? Like what kind of story would that be?”

Yukoners can find out exactly what type of story this October, when Whitehorse-based Larrikin Entertainment presents the world premiere of the play at venues including the Yukon Arts Centre, Watson Lake Recreation Centre, Globe Atlin Theatre, the Haines Junction Convention Centre and KIAC in Dawson City. 

The Resurrectionists is a darkly funny Gothic story that follows an ambitious young woman named Magda. In the middle of dreading an arranged marriage, Magda strikes a deal with a med student named William after she catches him looking for his own anatomical materials. 

In between the feminism and the love story and the Frankenstein-adjacent overtones, Braem says the play highlights the evolution of medicine. At the time the play is set (the 1860s), medicine was linked with religion. If you got sick, there was a sense that it was your fault – that illness was a moral repercussion. These days, medicine is more about a quest for knowledge and keeping people alive, but, Braem says, sometimes the question of can we do it trumps the question of should we do it. She’s interested in the ways medicine can reflect where a society is at any given moment. 

For example, Magda – the play’s protagonist, whose gender shuts her out of the world of medicine. Magda is the one who drew director Brian Dooley to the script. 

“I found Magda a strong, forceful woman who was not afraid to speak her mind,” says Dooley over the phone between rehearsals for the play in late September. “She’s vastly curious. You can imagine the obstacles that a young woman in the late Victorian era would have had to deal with. And so that’s always attractive. I found that interesting … it’s a feminist piece in many ways.”

Still, he says, within that feminist lens, the narrative is driven by what he calls “a lovely, lovely story.” At its heart, he says it’s about two young people stumbling towards each other because of a shared scientific curiosity that turns into a shared emotional curiosity about each other.

Braem agrees with that characterization. 

“Ultimately, it’s about somebody who fought for their education. Women, specifically,” she says. “I think it’s really a story about curiosity and it’s a story about the complexities of ethics.”

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