Review by Laura Heuston
Georgie was at the airport. She was on her way home. She had been living with her father in the United States, and was all set to return for acting school. She got a phone call. Her mother was dead.
But the version of Georgie’s mother that the world had known could never really die. After all, she had never really existed. In truth, she was a woman battling cancer, alcoholism, and a deep festering darkness. And according to a text, she had left everything to Georgie.
Good Grief is the poignant exploration of the deep complexities of loving your abuser, and the tumultuous experience of grieving for a source of great joy and pain. In this deeply personal one woman show, Pender explores the repercussions of substance abuse, domestic violence and intergenerational trauma. Through monologue, song, dance, and film, she takes us through the history and aftermath of severing ties with the person who was meant to be her role model, while trying to leave the door open for change and reconciliation. It is a delicate balance of comedy and tragedy, movement and voice, that results in a captivating 50 minutes.
To take on such a tremendous amount in a short amount of time is no small feat. There can be no question that Pender is a monumental performer, as one would have to be to undertake such an endeavour. The courage of her writing is also unquestionable, as to bring such a personal story to the public stage cannot be easy. To build tension while navigating this complex web of emotions is clearly a difficult task, and Pender has done an admirable job in her undertaking. One might suggest that she narrow the scope of her exploration, however, trauma does not exist in a vacuum. Substance abuse in parents is inextricably linked to domestic violence, and the intergenerational trauma that these behaviours stem from ought not to be ignored. If she was to have more time on the stage she may have been able to allow the audience more emotional rest, but the purpose of art is not merely to provide us with relaxation. This show is unapologetically intense, and thus reflective of a relationship with a deeply troubled parent.
Despite the intensity, the show certainly has its moments of levity. You cannot help but laugh at the notion of asking ChatGPT to “write me a eulogy for my alcoholic mother”. Or the smarting irony of the fact that said alcoholic mother was named Margarita (wow). It is important to have these periods of relief in the show, both for the audience and, I suspect, Georgina herself. These moments of laughter in a time of great struggle are crucial not only to healing, but also understanding. To be able to see the humour and beauty in times of darkness are how human beings are able to push through and relate to each other. When watching a young woman behave in a way that makes you smile in a situation you have never been in, you find yourself able to travel with her in the times of peril more easily. She is a person after all, not a walking trauma receptacle.
Good Grief is a lesson in compassion that everyone can learn from. From believing people when they try to express the truths of their family, to remembering that hurt people are the ones who inflict the most terrible wounds. It does not excuse their behaviour, but it does offer an explanation. Good Grief truly is a story of good grief. And it’s a good story too.