Co-playwrights Kelly McIntosh and Gil Garratt working on the script in Blyth, Ont. (Submitted by Blyth Festival Theatre)
It was a series of crimes that shocked Canadians: a nurse, often reprimanded for shoddy work over the course of a decade-long career, pleaded guilty to killing her patients in southwestern Ontario long-term care facilities.
Now, the aftermath of the crimes of serial killer nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer form the basis of a play which will be put on at the Blyth Festival, north of London, Ont., in August.
The play is called In the Wake of Wettlaufer.
“She’s not portrayed, her crimes are not recreated,” said Gil Garratt, Blyth’s artistic director and the play’s co-writer.
Wettlaufer is serving life in prison. In 2016 she confessed to injecting eight of her elderly patients with lethal doses of insulin.
“It’s a play about family, love, how we care for each other and how we deal with this kind of trauma,” said Garratt.
“It tells the story of a fictional family making care decisions for their elderly father, grieving his death, then later discovering he’d lived in the same facility where Wettlaufer worked.”
Daniel Silcox is interested in seeing the play. His father, James Silcox, 84, was Wettlaufer’s first victim.
Garratt and co-writer Kelly McIntosh interviewed eight family members of Wettlaufer’s victims during the writing process, including Daniel Silcox. His father, 84-year-old James Silcox, was Wettlaufer’s first victim, at Caressant Care Long Term Care in Woodstock, Ont.
Daniel Silcox said he was nervous when he heard the title of the play and reached out to the writers. He quickly realized they were doing extensive research and knew the Wettlaufer case intimately, he said.
‘I’m so in favour of this play,” said Silcox.
I just want to make sure my dad didn’t go for naught.– James Silcox
“Part of the damage” of Wettlaufer’s crimes “is the anxiety people are experiencing while choosing a facility for their parents,” he said.
Silcox hopes people who see the show leave with a greater awareness about choosing the right facility for loved ones.
He also hopes audiences pay attention to what the government does “to allay those fears and make it a better system, a more responsible system, a system we can entrust our parents to.”
When his own family was selecting a home for his dad, the overriding issue was availability, not quality of care, he said.
“Everyone assumed it was a universal level of care,” said Silcox.
“That reality hit us really hard. It’s been very, very painful.”
Despite that, he’ll be at Blyth Festival Theatre on opening night on August 9, along with his two sisters.
“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from that. I applaud Kelly and Gil for the work they’ve put in. I just hope it’s not too tough to watch, you know? I don’t know what kind of mood we’ll be in when we walk out, but it’s gotta be done,” he said.
“I just want to make sure my dad didn’t go for naught.”
Wettlaufer’s crimes shook people in communities in Southwestern Ontario, some of whom have contacted Garratt with objections to the show.
Blyth festival addressing concerns
There were three main concerns: it’s too soon, it glorifies Wettlaufer’s crimes, and it sensationalizes the story for ticket sales.
Garratt said victims’ families encouraged them to keep going. He focused on a fictional family making difficult decisions, because “we wanted to highlight the consequences, not just the act” of Wettlaufer’s crimes.
As for money-making, Garratt said the theatre is a not-for-profit charity that relies on donors Ticket sales do not cover costs, he said.
“If you want to make money in summer theatre in Ontario, you put on lots of comedies and lots of flashy musicals. You don’t do it putting on hard-hitting dramas about current affairs and issues,” he said.
“It’s a perfectly viable choice to not engage with the show,” said Garratt.
To address people’s concerns, the Blyth Festival is hosting three conversations over the show’s four-week run. In one, panelists will explore the idea of “What is a good death?”
On August 28th, renowned author Lawrence Hill will speak about his mother’s medically-assisted death in Switzerland.
Later this month, the final report from the province’s public inquiry into Wettlaufer’s crimes and the safety of long-term care homes is due. Justice Eileen Gillese will release her recommendations on July 31.