Sarah Louise Turner

In a simple, cozy Nova Scotia house, piles of sand stand in the corners of the living room, creeping from under the walls. The wallpaper has been replaced by an army-issue tent. Camouflage greens cover the room, save for the odd hint of a friendly pattern peeking through.

The set of People Like Us is an effective allegory for this moving, intricately crafted work. The war came home. It’s a story far more interesting than the play’s title suggests.

4,500 Canadian soldiers were deployed during the 1991 Gulf War. One third of them returned with Gulf War syndrome: a life-shattering, physiological illness that can include genetic mutation, PTSD, and cognitive dysfunction. Support from Veterans Affairs was minimal and hard-won. Families jumped through medical testing and paperwork hoops to get the help promised to them.

Sarah Louise Turner

Playwright and poet Sandi Johnson’s 75-minute monologue explores this unjust, devastating story. Admirably, it does so with a voice of those often overlooked in military tales: that of the wife and mother keeping family life together while her soldier is on the front line or returning, broken.

Kate Rourke (Sarah Louise Turner) is deeply in love with her husband, Gerry. He returned from the Gulf War with a myriad of health problems. Kate describes their marriage, from first love to living with an unrecognizable man, her frustration at the lack of government assistance, and shares with us Gerry’s demise in the family home.

It’s obvious to see that a poet wrote this. When her children experience one of their father’s turns at breakfast, Kate explains, “I saw the way fear moves. I saw the cracks in their faces.” Turner’s convincing portrayal of Kate as a sensual, bright, intelligent woman makes these soulful script details all the more moving.

Sarah Louise Turner

The play is a frustrating watch at times. With no narrative or story arc, the audience has just a continual series of short, disconnected memories and thoughts to keep them focused. At times, interest wanes. Johnson’s inclusion of belly dancing as an exploration of Kate’s sexuality and a nod to Iraq’s importance in world culture feels too contrived, standing out as a device for the play rather than a convincing character trait.

But this is a story worth telling, especially since it feels so long forgotten by media, government, and Canadians alike. During this month of remembrance, People Like Us does a fine job of giving us depth and clarity when we consider our troops – fallen and living – and those without ceremony or decoration who support them.

People Like Us continues at Firehall Arts Centre through November 16.

All photos by Emily Cooper.

About Our Contributor Zoe Grams

Zoe Grams

Scottish-born Zoe Grams is Principal at ZG Communications and has spent much of her life in theatres and bookstores. Her work has appeared in publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Tyee, Back of the Book, GUM and Skinny Mag. Zoe's lifelong passions include the arts and exploring new cities.

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