On Sunday, September 23rd, New Stages Theatre Company opens its 2018-19 season by bringing popular comedian Deborah Kimmett back to the Market Hall stage with her show The Year of the Suddenly.
Based on Deborah’s true-life experience, The Year of the Suddenly is directed by Linda Kash and features musician Nichol Robertson.
In The Year of the Suddenly, Deborah explores her relationship with her younger brother Kevin, who she only finally got to know when he was diagnosed with cancer.
She has toured the show, described as part comic monologue and part eulogy, throughout Ontario since its debut at Toronto’s Second City in June 2017.
“The Year of the Suddenly fits the sensibility of New Stages,” says New Stages artistic director Randy Read. “The subject matter at its core is very serious, but it’s handled with a great deal of humour. There’s a wonderful balance of humour and the reality of humanity. I believe that balance is in the best plays. The humour is there to understand the tragedy of it.”
“Also, people respond to Deb,” adds Randy, who last brought Deb to Peterborough for his Hits and Misses Cabaret last December. “I had a lot of feedback from people, who loved her. People will enjoy what she will bring to the stage.”
This is the second time Deborah will perform The Year of the Suddenly in Peterborough. The first time was only days after its debut in Toronto, when sheh performed the show at the former Catalina’s in downtown Peterborough for a one-night-only performance.
“I brought the show to Catalina’s after its debut because I didn’t want to do it in Napanee and Kingston where we grew up, because I thought in Peterborough nobody I knew would come,” Deborah says. “But half the people in Catalina’s that night drove in from Napanee. But they loved it.
“I’ve had every relative come and see it now, so I have no fears. You always wonder if you’ve said something offensive. I know it was hard the first few productions. In Kingston, it was everybody I knew and they were okay with it. My Mom came — and that was the hardest because I was worried that she’d be too upset to watch it — but she really liked it.”
Raised in a large Catholic family, Deborah was the oldest of six children, while her brother Kevin was the middle child.
“Kevin really wasn’t in the inner circle of the family,” Deborah says. “I was the oldest and the leader and I thought I was amazing, and he, of course, didn’t think that all the time.”
Although they knew each other their entire lives, for the most part Deborah and Kevin were virtual strangers — until he got ill, where an unlikely relationship between the two siblings grew.
“When my brother was ill I found out how interesting and talented he was,” she admits. “And, for the first time in my life, he became interested in me as well.”
Through their visits together, Deborah began to draft the first version of The Year of the Suddenly.
“I wrote down the story of my brother through the course of the time that he was sick,” she explains. “We weren’t as close until he was sick, and at that time we had a lot of conversations and I learned a lot about him. He was very smart and extremely funny.”
While Kevin’s illness is an important part of the narrative of the show, Deborah stresses that it is only a plot point and not the theme of The Year of the Suddenly.
“It’s not a show about cancer,” Deb says. “It’s about a brother and a sister. It’s a family relationship. It’s all about family and how we treat each other.
“I have this line that says ‘You don’t update your files on family for forty years.’ You can be the nicest person in the world, but your family doesn’t realize that you’ve changed since you were six. This whole story is nothing about cancer, but updating the files on a brother and sister relationship.
“A brother and sister treat each other different than, say, a sister treats a sister. There were always little factions in the family and groups you could hang out with. My two sisters and I were close, and my two brothers were close, and Kevin was in the middle and I just didn’t know him well growing up.
“We went to family gatherings, but the boys would be in the living room yelling about politics, and the women would be in the kitchen yelling about women’s rights, and we never really knew each other. The boys loved us, but they never really did anything with us. We never really talked to each other. So we went to these family events, and we’d get stuck into these roles.”
Although Kevin’s illness was a difficult time for Deborah and her family, she has been able to find the comedy amongst the tragedy for her show.
“When somebody is really ill, a lot of comedy comes out of human error,” she explains. “I always wanted to be a great sister, and I wanted to help out, but I’d blow it a lot. Even if you start out wanting to be a saint, at the end of it you realize that you weren’t as friendly as you thought you were. The humour comes out of our mistakes as people. I never mock his illness.”
“I also think comedy is all about falling down as a person,” she adds. “You go in with high ideas of yourself, and failing at those high ideas is where the humour comes from. So I walked in thinking I could be a nurse or a kind person, and all of that, and then my foibles as a human being failed me.”
Deborah has been performing The Year of the Suddenly for over a year, and since her Catalina’s performance the show has managed to change and evolve. One of the most obvious changes is the addition of musician Nichol Robertson to the show.
“My brother loved country and western music, and Nichol is this amazing guitar player,” she says. “He really can play any type of music. He does this thing where he dresses like a country gentleman and he’s got a great sense of humour. We’ve really rehearsed him into the show and he’s brought a lot into the piece. Music is used to tell the story. He really is an integral part of the show.”
Another change in the show is the emotional context for Deborah’s performance, now that some time has passed since her brother’s death from his illness.
“When I first wrote it, it was very raw and emotional because I had just gone through my brother having died,” she explains. “But lately it feels like we’ve included the audience more. The audience sings, and I dance with them, and eventually it became like a communal celebration of life. It’s emotional for the audience, but I’m not as emotional doing it.”
Still, with each performance, Deborah continues to keep her commitment to her brother’s memory alive when she goes on stage.
“I want to make sure that there was nothing I say in the show that would upset Kevin if he were alive,” she says. “I treated the material very carefully. I always say a little commitment to him before I go on stage, that he’ll be good with what I’ve written, and to also honour him.”
The Year of the Suddenly is a perfect way to open New Stages’ upcoming season of thought-provoking and often hard-hitting shows. Randy Read always brings the best talent to Peterborough for everything he produces, and Deborah Kimmett is no exception. She is a funny woman with a magnetic stage presence that goes right to the soul of the audience, and it is a true gift to have her perform at the Market Hall.
The Year of the Suddenly will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 23rd at the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre in downtown Peterborough. Genearl admission tickets are $30 ($15 for students, art workers, and the underwaged) and are available in person at the Market Hall Box Office or by phone at 705-749-1146 (12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday) or online anytime at markethall.org.