Theatre reviewers have raved about the play by Quebec playwright, Franςois Archambault, entitled “You Will Remember Me,” now playing at the Tarragon MainStage in Toronto. It was labelled “a pleasing family drama” by Karen Fricker in the Star, which explores “the reality of dementia and uses it as a metaphor,” says J. Kelly Nestruck in the Globe and, after discussion with “Canadian theatre legend” R. H. Thomson, “a play about identity” by Mike Crisolago in EverythingZoomer.com. I was able to snag a last-minute ticket last week and found that the play is all the critics said, and more.
Given its subject, the play is surprisingly light-hearted. Edouard Beauchemin (R.H. Thomson) is a well-known Quebec history professor, public intellectual and nationalist who is in his sixties and beset with Alzheimer’s. Although he can recite historical facts, ad infinitum, and rage on about his favourite bugbear, he can’t remember whom he is talking to or why. He remains vigorous and occasionally brilliant, but cannot be left alone. His long-suffering wife, Madelaine (Nancy Palk), needs a break and decides to leave him with their daughter Isabelle (Kimwun Perehinec) and her new partner Patrick (Mark McGrinder). Isabelle is preoccupied with the demands of her career as a journalist. Patrick, temporarily unemployed, volunteers to pick up the ball. But he has his own agenda which includes his teenage daughter Bérénice (Michela Cannon). All the actors are superb.
To quote Karen Fricker (March 11, 2016), “Edouard is the latest incarnation of an iconic Québecois cultural figure: the charismatic, incorrigible, skirt-chasing male academic… whose ambiguities and excesses comment on the national situation.” The national situation in Quebec has changed since Edouard supported René Lévesque and the Quiet Revolution, years ago; young people today know next to nothing about the revolutionary struggle of which he was a part. The bane of Edouard’s current existence is the all-pervasive influence of social media which, in his view, has “dumbed down” contemporary intelligence. All this is suggested by sparkling dialogue and interesting plot developments. But he who scorns modern technology finds it has uses after all.
And who is it that best helps Edouard deal with his changing identity? His wife has left. His daughter is impatient and rarely connects. It’s “the strangers” in his “blended family” who step into the breach. Patrick and Bérénice discover that the trick is to live in the moment, and that the reality of the moment may, but need not, reflect the truth in the past. On the contrary, relationships can be enhanced, and secrets revealed, by the strength of the creative imagination.
My mother, after surgery for an aneurysm at 75 years of age, suffered a post-operative stroke which destroyed her short-term memory. Although not suffering from Alzheimer’s, she was demented for the remaining 12 years of her life. My experience visiting her and her fellow residents in the secure unit of a long-term care facility for six years was that “the creative imagination” was the key to successful emotional interactions between us. On many occasions, by knowing just a little of what remained in the long-term memory, I found it possible to connect in the present. Who knows whether what we talked about was true or not; it didn’t matter. What was important was to confirm each other as people connected in the moment. That the play portrayed that process left me awestruck. That it did so with such good humour and such pathos in a mere 90 minutes makes it totally compelling.
I would recommend the play to anyone who has been, or will be, touched with dementia. As the reviewers all said, it offers much food for thought and it’s a play you will not forget. Developed for Montreal’s Théâtre La Licorne in 2014 as Tu te souviendras de moi, it had its début in the English translation by Bobby Theodore as part of the Enbridge playRites festival of new Canadian plays in Calgary that same year. It played at The Cultch Historic Theatre in Vancouver last November. This co-production between Studio 180 and the Tarragon Theatre is its Toronto English-language début and runs until Sunday April 10th.