Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
“I can’t forget everything!” exclaims R.H. Thomson, in an impeccable, moving, dignified, and at times, funny performance as Edouard Beauchemin, a professor stricken with Alzheimer’s disease in “You Will Remember Me” at the Tarragon Theatre. Please, don’t forget to see this wonderful play- a co-production with Studio 180, skillfully translated by Bobby Theodore from Francois Archambault’s Tu te souviendras de moi.
Director Joel Greenburg creates a deeply human, well-paced production, with a superb cast. Drawn into Edouard’s struggle with memory and identity is Nancy Palk, portraying with compassion and strength – his wife, Madeleine. Photo courtesy of Cylla von Tiedemann
Kimwun Perehinec, is his daughter Isobel, who longs for a father whose identity is slipping away (there is a great scene where they dance together!); Mark McGrinder as Isobel’s partner Patrick, adds humour, optimism, and directness; and finally, Michela Cannon, portraying Patrick’s 20-year-old daughter, Berenice. Cannon’s role is pivotal. She reluctantly agrees to “baby-sit” Edouard, and draws closer to him as he sees her as his deceased daughter Natalie (whose middle name was Berenice). As the play progresses, she gently moves in and out of that role. Ironically, Alzheimer’s—a disease of memory loss—brings this daughter back to Edouard in a meaningful way, after he has spent years trying, in his grief, to forget her.
Edouard talks about his disease as “consuming” him, and Alzheimer’s is, perhaps, our modern version of “consumption,” an illness that affects many of us. However, as portrayed by Thomson, he is a memorable, individual character, not just “a person with Alzheimer’s.” He begins the play by telling us about his excellent memory for historical events and former students, while he has trouble keeping track of events and people in the present. By the end, the essence of his humanity shines bright, even as he recognizes his losses.
The play asks us to consider “the marks…left behind by our experiences” as well as the importance of the present moment, and shows how each family member is touched by the illness. Moreover, it raises questions of loss on a larger scale—mass media’s affect on independent thinking—the loss of indigenous languages and peoples—even the disappearance of native species of plants, replaced by invading ones. Edouard has been a supporter of Quebec sovereignty and deals with that loss—the play made me think of Quebec’s motto, “Je me souviens.” The set and projections, designed by Denyse Karn (who also designed the costumes), becomes like another character in the play. Most of the action takes place in an almost bare living room, while projected along the back wall, and painted on the sides, is a misty, autumnal woods, like a Tom Thomson painting come to life. If you look closely, you see that some of the tree roots resemble dendrites—the branching projections of nerve cells. Characters wander into the woods when they are upset or searching for meaning. The few pieces of furniture—couch, ottoman, bench, chair—are used effectively. The sound design by Verne Good, and the lighting design, by Kimberly Purcell, enhance the mood. You Will Remember Me runs until April 10th. I cannot praise this play highly enough!