A Borderless Battlefield: The Efficacy of Memory in Vern Thiessen's Vimy presented at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research Conference at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver, BC, May 31-June 3, 2008
Vern Thiessen’s epic play, Vimy, which premiered at the MacLab in the Citadel Theatre, Edmonton just in time for Remembrance Day 2007, moves through the borders of place and time to create a space for a reflection on national and personal identity in terms of an international conflict. Through the memories that both sustain and haunt four Canadian soldiers in a field hospital, the play constructs a portrait of social and cultural differences and similarities. Self-awareness extends itself beyond the confines of a hospital room into the blighted landscape of France, and the various communities across Canada from which these soldiers came. It is tested in a lethal confrontation with “the other,” who reveal themselves to be very much the same in their hopes and fears. The blasted tree that constitutes the backdrop to the action testifies to the possibilities for destruction and growth – the birth of a “terrible beauty” amidst the horror of war. The nurse who circles the periphery of the action, as both a witness of death, and a catalyst for healing, also passes through the borders of time and place in her recollections of home. Thiessen contends that Vimy “is not a play about war,” but an exploration of “the small moments [that] define us as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.” The past continues to impinge on the present.