Theatre Review – Tarragon/Studio 180, François Archambault’s You Will Remember Me

Remember_Final_WP2Studio 180, under artistic director Joel Greenberg, deliberately chooses plays that provoke. By presenting material on the edge, the company always guarantees an interesting visit to the theatre, and I mean interesting in the very best sense of the word.

At the heart of François Archambault’s play, You Will Remember Me, is a family living with Alzheimer’s. The title comes from the Yvette Giraud song, Tu te souviendras de moi, and the lyrics in English are provided in the program. We actually hear the complete song during the play, and the acclaimed Quebec playwright has cleverly woven aspects of Giraud’s lyrics into his characters and plot. Kudos to Bobby Theodore for his excellent English translation of both the play and the song.

Admittedly, there have been many plays, movies and novels about Alzheimer’s and dementia, but the acclaimed Quebec playwright tries to bring a new perspective to the subject. He concentrates on close encounters, specifically, the individual relationships the central figure Edouard (R.H. Thomson) has with his wife Madeleine (Nancy Palk), his daughter Isabelle (Kimwun Perehinec), her partner Patrick (Mark McGrinder), and Patrick’s daughter Berenice (Michela Cannon). With each duet, so to speak, we learn more about the Beauchemin family dynamics, which broadens out from the narrow theme of coping with illness, into the larger themes of loss, the impact of lives lived, and the legacy we leave behind. Particularly moving is Edouard’s growing bond with the teenage Berenice, a May/December friendship that manages to encapsulate the past, present and future all in one go, including a dark family secret.

You will Remember MeEdouard has no short term memory, but his long term memory is rock solid. This allows the playwright to weave into the plot the parallel theme of Quebec sovereignty. Edouard is acutely aware of the Parti Québécois’s failed referendums. He remembers those losses as if they were yesterday, and so the idea of Quebec independence, now a vague memory among the young of the province, becomes a metaphor for his own tenuous existence in the present. That Edouard is a former university professor makes his personal and political history all the sadder for the man he has become. There is laughter in the play, however, much of it at Edouard’s own expense. He knows  that he won’t remember anything that is happening in the now, which he treats with deprecating humour.

Thomson gives a riveting performance as Edouard. He is one of the country’s great actors, and he takes the audience through his character’s perilous journey with bravura and panache. The role is a broad sweep of emotions and there is never a false note. Also giving excellent account of themselves are Palk as the caustic wife and Cannon as a young woman who matures before our eyes. Berenice is a great role for a young actress, and Cannon is definitely a talent to watch.

remember3Obviously, Perehinec made the decision that Isabelle should concentrate on anger being her driver. Over time, however, her sour one-note characterization becomes very irritating,  reducing Isabelle to a cypher. McGrinder as Patrick is miscast. He doesn’t look or act old enough to be Berenice’s father or Isabelle’s partner. Although he does capture the irony of Patrick’s line delivery, McGrinder is definitely odd-man-out on the stage. He lacks the presence needed for this particular role.

The production is gorgeous to look at. Designer Denyse Karn has fashioned wraparound projections of a forest to cocoon Edouard’s existence. For Edouard, the forest has great meaning, so the set, with its split forest/livingroom areas mirrors his fractured state of mind.

Greenberg, who directed the play, and the Tarragon should be congratulated for bringing this important playwright to Toronto. Despite some acting flaws, You Will Remember Me is a fine production.

You Will Remember Me by François Archambault, directed by Joel Greenberg, Tarragon Mainspace, Mar. 1 to Apr. 10, 2016.

 

 

 

 

Theatre Review –Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You

As a writing team, George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart really understood the tenor of the times. In 1936, deep in the Great Depression, they opened You Can’t Take It With You as a balm for hard times. At the heart is the seemingly eccentric Sycamore family who live by Grandpa’s motto of only doing what makes you happy. It’s a screwball comedy with heart. The moral is that we don’t need money, and, perhaps the more subliminal anti-capitalism message is that the stock market collapse, viz money, caused the current miseries.

The only one who actually leads a normal life – meaning, she has a job – is Alice Sycamore (Krystin Pellerin). When she falls in love with the upscale Tony Kirby (Gregory Prest), a collision course is bound to happen. Tony’s high society parents (John Jarvis and Brenda Robbins) and their encounter with the Sycamore clan and their acolytes, is going to be big trouble. Alice feels she can’t marry Tony because she is embarrassed by her family.

Grandpa keeps snakes and won’t pay income tax. Father (Derek Boyes) makes fire works. Mother (Nancy Palk) writes stories and paints pictures badly. Sister Essie (Patricia Fagan) is a ballerina wannabe who makes candy which is distributed by her amateur printer husband (Mike Ross). And then there are the hangers-on including Essie’s pontificating dance teacher (Diego Matamoros) and the iceman who came on a delivery and never went home (Michael Simpson).

Peterson was born to play Grandpa. He has the best lines in the play and he makes the most of them. He is a great actor when it comes to delivering sharp one-liners. The rest of the cast is just fine. The one problem is Pellerin. In other performances, she has shown her considerable talent but in this play, she seems to be playing catch up. She never is in the moment. If anything, she’s too bland. As a result, there is little chemistry with Prest. Perhaps an actress with more fire in the belly would have served better.

Director Joseph Ziegler once again proves he can marshal huge numbers around the stage and keep things lively. Christina Poddubiuk’s period set and costumes gild the lily. You Can’t Take It With You is a fun evening of theatre. It’s a silly play, but in our hearts, we’d all like to be part of the Sycamore anarchy.

You Can’t Take It With You, written by George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart, (starring Eric Peterson, Krystin Pellerin and Gregory Prest, directed by Joseph Ziegler) Soulpepper, Young Centre for the Arts, Apr. 19 to Jun. 21, 2012