WHEN playwright Dina Ross read an article about death cafes, the idea for a play came to her immediately.
“I was intrigued by the idea of a group of people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to talk about death, so I went along to a death cafe in Melbourne to experience it,” she explains.
“I was surprised to find that it was not depressing or like a grief counselling session. People can come together over coffee, cake and muffins to discuss death and mortality in a friendly, non-judgmental atmosphere.”
The result is Muffins at the Death Cafe, a play that Ross says “tickles the funny bone and pulls at the heartstrings”, whichis at the Mechanics Institute’s Metanoia Theatre in Brunswick from October 21 to November 1.
The cast includes Rosemary Johns, Otis Binnie, Victor Gralak, Jo-Anne Armstrong, Sharon Karina and Morgan Phillips. The production is directed by Wolf Heidecker and is staged by the Larrikin Ensemble Theatre.
Death cafes were founded by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who organised the first “cafe mortel” in 2004. They have since spread across Britain and the USA, with Melbourne’s first death cafe session held in 2013.
“Muffins at the Death Cafe is a black comedy with moments of high drama,” says Ross. “Each of the six characters wants answers to fundamental questions we all ask ourselves: Why are we here? Can we make a difference? How do we connect with each other?
“And what they discover is that by talking openly and honestly about death, they learn so much more about life.”
The play had its first public reading at a workshop at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival and received an enthusiastic response.
Ross’s first play, Smokescreens, premiered at Chapel Off Chapel in 2002. Waiting was staged in 2003 and was nominated for a Green Room Award.
Her play Trio was staged at La Mama in 2005, in Adelaide in 2006 and toured around regional Victoria in 2007-08.
In 2007 she became an affiliate writer with the Melbourne Theatre Company and wrote the musical Summer Season. Chrysalis was staged by La Mama in 2008.
In 2011 she was a writer in residence with Red Stitch Actors Theatre.
In 2015, she won the Odyssey House Short Story Competition and was shortlisted for the Alan Marshall Short Story Award.
She is the convener of the popular series of bi-monthly short story readings at Fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne called [email protected]
Muffins at the Death Cafe is at Metanoia Theatre, Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Road, Brunswick from October 21 to November 1. Bookings: www.metanoiatheatre.com.
REPORT by Danny Gocs