For gay people in the early ‘80s, frequenting funerals of friends lost way too soon was yet another hidden aspect of their lives, something they had to bear alone — until straight people started getting AIDS too.
For Jack and Maurice, the characters in Darrin Hagen’s new play, 10 Funerals, attending funerals from their community is a big part of their relationship, including how they first met, in 1983.
Some of the deceased, they liked. Some, they didn’t. And as the years and funerals fly by, some, at least for Jack, are hard to remember. But they always end up at home together, discussing over coffee what they, and their community, are going through (AIDS isn’t the only killer).
“There were the [funerals] you’d go to and then there were the ones you’d just hear about. But they were happening all around you,” Hagen says of the real-life funerals that inspired this work. “Bette Midler once said, talking about the AIDS crisis, that for some communities, it was equivalent to a small town in Ontario where all the men under 30 went off to war and none of them came back.”
We start with the pair portrayed at middle age by Nathan Cuckow and Doug Mertz, then as 20-somethings by Jake Tkacyk and Josh Travnik. The play’s timeline then goes forward through 36 years as both pairs age and the funerals change, which rounds out the story’s perspective.
“When you’re in your 20s, in the middle of the AIDS crisis, it’s pretty easy to be self-absorbed. And it’s not until you get past that decades later, that you start to look back and realize that everyone else goes through shit, too. We got a good dose of it early. And I don’t think it prepared us any better for what we’re going through now. I thought it would, but like, fuck — it hurts. We were going through tragedy, but we had only known those people for a few years. So now you come to the deaths that are a little more typical, from illness and age, and it hurts way more, because you’ve had decades to fall in love with them. The loss is less tragic, but way more painful somehow.”
Which is your go-to Christmas movie?
12%Miracle on 34th Street
24%A Nightmare Before Christmas
0%Jingle All the Way
Hagen’s dialogue is like a loving tennis match between the characters, returning each served quip with another until they reach a breaking point with a line that slows the whole thing down to reveal the darkness they’ve been rallying over. Long pauses follow emotional gut punches, and even as the pace picks up again over many light-hearted moments and dirty jokes, death hangs in the air. At one point, a young Maurice asks Jack, “If you die, who will I go to funerals with?”
“That’s the drag of writing about funerals — you gotta go to those sad places, right?” Hagen says, days after reading yet another eulogy for a dear friend. “But laughing and crying are the same release. And it’s important to remember that there is joy to be had in the reliving of the moments you had with someone. Like the memorial I did on the weekend — as hard as it was, what a gift to be able to celebrate someone you love, right?”