ARTS · Theatre March 21st, 2016

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Forgettable play on memory loss

Cast game, but script on dementia doesn't know which story to tell

You Will Remember Me, by François Archambault, translated by Bobby Theodore, directed by Joel Greenberg, running at Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace to Apr. 10.

If you asked five different theatregoers what You Will Remember Me was about, you’d hear five different responses.

The setup is simple enough: Quebec political icon, university professor, and long-time sovereigntist Edouard Beauchemin — played with a pitch-perfect mix of intellectual arrogance, kindness and self-aware befuddlement by R.H. Thomson — slowly succumbs to dementia while the four people closest to him do their best to cope.

But there’s a trajectory you’d expect a play like You Will Remember Me to take: A buried secret, perhaps, that the protagonist’s loss of memory reveals, a slowly healed relationship as he realizes time with his loved ones is growing short, some type of Grand Statement regarding dementia.

And while playwright François Archambault’s script has elements of each of those, it doesn’t fully commit to any of them: the secret revealed is neither dramatic nor the play’s focus. Nor is its story anchored by the protagonist’s relationship with any one supporting character. And while the show raises plenty of questions regarding the topic of dementia, it doesn’t appear interested in answering, or in most cases even discussing, any of them.

What Archambault seems most interested in doing is presenting Edouard’s situation more or less the way it could play out in real life, with his wife Madeleine (Soulpepper’s Nancy Palk, underused), journalist daughter Isabelle (Kimwun Perehinec), Isabelle’s partner Patrick (Mark McGrinder), and Patrick’s teenage daughter Berenice (Michela Cannon) all responding in logical ways.

I found Edouard’s relationship with Berenice to be the most interesting thread in the play, partly because it was the least predictable, and partly because it had the clearest arc. Edouard didn’t know Berenice or her father before his disease struck, so he “remembers” her by writing that she’s “the pretty young redhead who treats me like I’m slightly retarded” in his notebook and, as their friendship develops, by reading conversations that she writes down for him and reminds him of whenever they meet.

To reveal more of the plot would be to spoil what little happens but, suffice it to say, You Will Remember Me is no melodrama. And though I’m glad it’s not melodramatic, I wish it had provided a more compelling reason to spend time with these characters.

Perhaps the play’s defining theme was meant to be technology: After all, Edouard begins the show by decrying the role the Internet has played in dumbing down the masses, only to be confronted by Berenice’s equally convincing argument that online video and social media can rally their passion like no other medium.

Or perhaps it was indeed meant to be about dementia’s impact on a family. Wonderful tales can be (and have been) told about the subject and, as the population ages, the problem is only going to become more widespread. There’s obvious value in a story that gets the audience thinking about it. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t there have been a higher purpose in mind?

I can’t help but wonder if the play’s original version, which premiered in Montreal in 2014, would have served a higher purpose for its French-Canadian audience. Its references to the 1980 and 1995 referendums, and the culture that created them, are very specific, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Archambault, whose work apparently skews federalist, meant for Edouard to illustrate the decline of Quebec’s separatist movement. To an English-speaking audience, however, the play offers little more than 90 minutes of well-acted family drama.

I don’t regret seeing You Will Remember Me, but I can’t honestly say it would have been worth the price of a ticket either.