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.