TJ Dawes is an average guy. He takes the stage in an unassuming all black outfit, his only prop a water bottle and the only staging some simple lights. He could easily be mistaken for a member of the audience. TJ Dawes is an average guy, which is exactly why his story is so compelling.
The premise for Medicine, showing at Firehall Arts, is a little strange on first appearance. It involves Dawes’ experience with the psychotropic plant ayahuasca—though it’s no tale of debauchery or youthful exploration (though he does touch on that). It also involves the well-known Vancouver based Dr. Gabor Maté—but this isn’t a story about addiction, and while the title may be Medicine it isn’t really about sickness, at least not an easily identifiable one. At its roots, it’s just a story about an average guy, with maybe some non-average, but also completely understandable problems.
In 85 minutes on the stage, Dawes weaves a tale of introversion, neuroses, and longing. It is clear from the start that while Dawes appears ordinary he has an extraordinary amount of wit, awkward charm, and comedic timing. Medicine contains hilarious insights into the process of growing up—a process that in Dawe’s case, as in many others, spans well past adolescence—but also the stranger things in life, like alphabets and keyboards.
Medicine is captivating the whole way through but really starts to gain momentum around the halfway point when Dawes begins to delve into those things that set him apart. His story is interesting but he knows that it’s just one among many, and while extraordinary in many ways, it’s still one that anyone could relate to. What keeps the whole thing going though is Dawes unwavering candor and lack of pretension. It sounds strange, but Dawes somehow finds a way to turn his extraordinary experiences into the universally relatable moments. He makes his story of a weeklong retreat full of group therapy sessions and nights of hallucinations into something both novel and familiar to the audience all at once. It’s interesting, funny, and perfectly heartbreaking.
Medicine is brilliant for being able to match the form to the content but of course that’s not what makes it hit home; it’s the fact Dawes makes you feel like you share the same story – you just wish you could tell it as well as he does.
N.B. For those who have the opportunity, the talkback session with Dawes and Dr. Gabor Maté is not to be missed.
Medicine is playing at Firehall Arts Centre through January 25. More info regarding tickets and talkback dates can be found here.