True Mummy


92 pages
ISBN 1-895636-52-3
DDC C812'.54






Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson, Librarian Emeritus, former Assistant Director of
Libraries (University of Saskatchewan) and dramaturge (Festival de la
Dramaturgie des Prairies).


Tom Cone has been widely produced in Canada, New York, Chicago, London,
and Edinburgh. Recipient of the Canada Council Award, the NEA, and the
Drama League Award for Playwriting, his best-known play is Herringbone.
Recently he has turned his attention to writing libretti for
contemporary opera.

This new play touches on the universal triangle of life, death, and
art. The pestle of artistic exploitation (or desecration?) grinds the
ingredients in a mortar and then fires them in a crucible to produce the
clear shellac once made from the bodies of Egyptian mummies (the
eponymous “True Mummy” veneer used to preserve classic paintings).
The process is evoked shockingly in the intrigue of the main arc of the
play. Periodic counterpoint scenes call from antiquity a 12-year-old
Egyptian princess describing her feelings as she goes through the
process of mummification.

Meanwhile the contemporary plot involves two earth-mother-type women on
a wilderness beach where one saves the other from drowning and, in so
doing, appears to assure the continuance of humanity in a
soon-to-be-born child. But does art assure a more lasting immortality
and justify murder perhaps? When a 50-year-old ex-rabbi joins the women,
the dramatic stakes rise exponentially with their coincidental and
incestuous connections. Cone blithely solders age-old rituals to
contemporary themes of Alzheimer’s and euthanasia.

As a play, True Mummy does two essential things. First, it takes us
back to the ritualistic and religious origins of theatre: the
explication and creation of mythology. At the same time, it debunks the
received accretions of religious wisdom by lambasting them with
startlingly grotesque images and biting aphorisms worthy of a Voltaire
or a Nietzsche. For instance, after describing the replacement of
“God’s cock rule” (circumcision) with the modern universal
prescription of latex-only sex, one character concludes with a chant:
“Kill the ritual, kill the fear.” Cone’s thematically difficult
play will certainly provoke discussion.


Cone, Tom., “True Mummy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024,