Thursday 2 February 2017

You Will Remember Me is unforgettably touching
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Editor's note : As we are unable to attend this year's mounting, the following is a re-worked version of BLR's November, 2015 review of the play from its original Ruby Slippers \ Cultch production. All "the usual suspects" are back to reprise their show from 15 months ago except Kevin Loring who replaces Craig Erickson as the character Patrick.

From the footlights : It is said we all die twice. Once when we breathe our final breath, and a second time when the last person to remember us dies. But along the way there are many stages. And as we live longer, considerably more Alzheimer-like conditions will confront us. From ancient times the dementia was recognized as real : the Chinese character translates literally as "foolish old person".

But as Boomers themselves become "foolish old people", the issue takes on enhanced prominence with respect to social practice & public policy. Should diseased elders be warehoused? Should families bear the burden of ultimate responsibility down through the generations? When and how do decisions get taken to end the growing misery a loved one suffers? 

These questions are debated, often with humour, in Bobby Theodore's You Will Remember Me translation of the Francois Archambault original script Tu te souviendres de moi. Whether metaphor for how society treats its various discards past their best-by date or more simply just a story, YWRM will touch you, shake you, move you off centre, no question. 

How it's all put together : Edouard Beauchemin (Kevin McNulty) is, ironically, a professor of history who is losing his grip on memory. Not the minutiae of historical epochs. For that his brain still fires on all cylinders. But the day-to-day, moment-by-moment stuff, more each passing minute. 

Wife Madeleine (Patti Allan) struggles against three forces : the simple fact of Edouard's disease; the increasing alienation she has felt from him who throughout their marriage has used his mind as a weapon against her (not to mention serial sexcapades with his students); then there's the guilt she feels about abandoning Edouard, now, when he's been cut adrift from his life's moorings. 

Madeleine wants daughter Isabelle (Marci T House) to take Edouard on with the same zest and vehemence she devotes to her t.v. reporter work. Have Edouard live with her. But of course for Isabelle, work is a means to escape the shackles of family. Into the mix comes new boyfriend Patrick (Kevin Loring). He's a bit of a layabout on U.I. who enjoys nothing so much as nights out with the lads to play poker. 

Likeable Patrick has a teenage daughter, Berenice (Sereana Malani) who is chippy, flip, and full of attitude and who Isabelle has no time for. Edouard, who hates all the values of her Gen Y group, ultimately finds Berenice to be his true angel of mercy. 

Zippy dialogue gets laughs : Not only a professor, Edouard has long had his own radio program. He's a regular go-to interviewee on t.v., an unrepentant Quebec nationalist, a politico activist for whom Rene Levesque is still his hero. But the current cyber-world is utterly unnerving to him : "This is a pitiful time for ideas," he declares. "The current climate depresses me so much I almost miss Pierre Elliott Trudeau!" He drips with sarcasm at how social media have besieged the public consciousness, dismissing it en masse : "It's the democratization of human stupidity!" he seethes. Lots a chortles from an appreciative and identifying audience in all that rant. 

But in the end the brilliance of the Archambault / Theodore script is its grasp of zeitgeist, the focus on mindfulness that's all the rage, the head-butt of the instant against any past event : "The mark you left yesterday doesn't mean anything?" Berenice challenges him near the end. "Hmnn," a momentarily lucid Edouard reflects, "that's a good question. That's the question." (2017 BLR editor update : seems the rage now, just a year later, is strong-arm salutes to bullies, not "mindfulness" at all.)

Recall of a much earlier similar script done @ The Cultch : Decades back on the original Cultch church stage, Studio 58 founder Antony Holland starred in a little potboiler of a play entitled Family Matters. Like everyone else, I interpreted it as the adjective "family" modifying the noun "matters". But only when Holland explodes in a rage at one of his disrespectful kids "Family matters!" did the show's real meaning emerge. 

Similarly here. In both senses, YWRM is a show about family matters. One can't help but conjure Count Leo Tolstoy's opening line to his epic novel Anna Karenina that BLR quotes regularly it is so apt and smart : "Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." 

Despite her anger at her husband at whom she seethes and taunts and disparages noisily, Madeleine softens, too, kisses him good-bye, lets him lie in her lap while she strokes his hair. Angry and defensive Isabelle sneaks dad away for a restaurant meal one night. They get schnockered on two bottles of wine, arriving home all giggly and merry. Berenice becomes a surrogate daughter to Edouard on a couple of different levels. Endeared to him and he to her, she helps him work through various truths of his life now filtered through a glass darkly. 

Numerous times during the show I found myself reaching for kleenex as the pain of these kinds of exchanges struck their target in me. Ruby Slippers Artistic Director Diane Brown, who directed the show, said it perhaps best : "Like (Archambault's) other work, this play is startlingly honest, funny, intimate and expansive. As our protagonist is stripped of his identity, his history, his memory, his ego, the play evokes a kind of humanity that demands attention, and reminds us that life is bigger." 

Acting pin-spots:  Like Antony Holland's performance from decades ago, Kevin McNulty's representation as Edouard will live in memory as long as mine might survive. Utterly stupendous. 

Full credit to the Archambault / Theodore script for demonstrating the subtlety of progressive dementia -- "Do I know you? What was your name again? I wish you'd wear a name tag so I can remember it!" Edouard says over-&-over again -- but it is McNulty's power that grabs : he evinces a full and total appreciation of his character's slow but ineluctable slide. An astonishing and completely heart-rending performance. 

Nothing better from Julianne Moore in the recent Alzheimer-themed movie Still Alice, or earlier, what Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent did in Sarah Polley's Away From Her script (based on -- my favourite! -- Alice Munro, whose short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" is AM at her peak of writing + insight). No question here. McNulty's acting is absolutely must-see for power, nuance, and visceral honesty.

As Madeleine, Patti Allan was breathtaking at moments in the complete believability of her role as the emotionally abused wife always struggling for dignity under the shadow of the bright social intellectual powerhouse her husband cast. Her bottled throttling rage was immense in its delivery.

Kudos to "the children", each and all, in the performance too. Together and singly they revealed characters who were never one-dimensional despite parts written to perhaps make them seem so at first blush. 

Production highlights : Director Diane Brown put together a team whose performance for the tight Historic Stage at the Cultch was spot on. Particular mention of Heidi Wilkinson's tier'd set of a wicker settee and slat-backed rocker surrounded by monster weed stalks that worked well indeed. But it was Corwin Ferguson's projected images on the backstage wall -- a sort of oversize sheet of hospital gauze with random bandages or post-it notes stuck on it -- these tied the set together cleverly, richly. Whether from Quebec or my favourite Cariboo here in B.C., the projected birchbark trees and the birds -- coupled with the overlays of Edouard's  demented scribblery -- the effects worked 100% or more. 

Who gonna like : YWRM is small-stage theatre at its best. The themes that are pursued and examined are absolutely au courant. Intimacy. Loyalty. Career. History. Now. Next? Cast delivery was completely equal to the excellence of the Archambault / Theodore script. Production details were precise, calculated, and pleasing. 

Blocking the numerous exits / entrances from every possible angle contributed to the feel of "This play is everywhere!" intended by the playwright. An intense & completely! rewarding night of theatre. How YWRM confronts so compellingly a future many of us will face is nonpareil live theatre that is Ruby Slippers trademark. The production is both challenging & disquieting, but a triumph : a fully personal individual grab at the heart. Brava! Bravo! 

Let me be clear. Not an offhand pip-pip Good show! recommendation here -- for its excellence in extremis -- do, truly, Go!

Particulars : Produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre in collaboration with Gateway Theatre. Performed at The Gateway, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  From February 2-11 only. Run-time 100 minutes including intermission.  Schedule and tickets for both evening and matinee shows by phone at 604.270.1812 or via Gateway tickets

Creative Team : Playwright Francois Archambault.  Translated by Bobby Theodore.  Director Diane Brown.   Set & Prop Designer Heidi Wilkinson.  Costume Designer Jessica Oostergo.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Video Designer Corwin Ferguson.  Sound Designer / Composer Joelysa Pankanea.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson.  Apprentice Stage Manager Alex Kirkpatrick.

Performers :  Kevin McNulty (Edouard).  Marci T House (Isabelle).  Patti Allan (Madelaine).  Sereana Malani (Berenice).  Kevin Loring (Patrick). 

Addendum : From The Cultch program, 2015, About the Company notes on Ruby Slippers Theatre :

Multi-award-winning Ruby Slippers Theatre produces, creates, and presents provocative text-based theatre from the vanguard of the English and French Canadian canon. We tell stories that illuminate diverse perspectives and social issues, inspiring independent critical thought and communion.

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