Governor General’s Award-winning playwright François Archambault’s critically acclaimed French-Canadian play “Tu te souviendras de moi” at last receives its Québec English language premiere this winter after first opening in Montreal at La Licorne in 2014. Translated by Bobby Theodore and directed by Roy Surette, the story uses dementia to explore themes of memory, history, and technology in a riveting new stage production at the Centaur. Read our full review below.
A retired university professor and academic figure of renown in Québec, Edouard (Jean Marchand) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. A self-proclaimed “walking encyclopedia”, his astounding ability to meticulously recite countless historical dates and facts make of him a most worthy Jeopardy contender. At palpable peril, however, is his short-term memory, and the once quick-witted, skirt-chasing alpha male of intellectual prowess suddenly finds himself in the struggle of not even being able to recall what he had for breakfast.
“A lot of people would pay to spend time with me,” he pompously claims in all his vainglory; but would they, now, given that he can hardly remember their names from one moment to the next? Tragically, he finds himself slowly falling from grace under a watchful public eye.
Edouard’s deteriorating mental condition naturally challenges the compassion of his family. Saddled by the seemingly thankless task of being his caregiver, his wife Madeleine (Lally Cadeau) has decided she needs a break of “indeterminate length”, showing up and dumping him unannounced one weekend at their daughter Isabelle’s (Johanna Nutter) home. An ambitious journalist, Isabelle is due to hastily leave for an assignment, and she takes up on her new boyfriend Patrick’s (Charles Bender) offer to look after her father in her absence. Patrick too soon ends up abandoning the scene for a drinking and gambling affair with friends, leaving a distraught Edouard with the former’s angsty texting teenage daughter Berenice (Amanda Silveira) as his interim sitter.
With the intergenerational conflict between them in evident place, Edouard and Berenice’s relationship eventually becomes the thread of the narrative. They clash and bicker, but the appearance of a familiar garment from the past blurs the lines between his memory and reality, and the young woman suddenly finds herself as a trigger for his deepest feelings.
Beyond the surface story of the family drama is relevant political commentary as Edouard, a lifelong sovereigntist, reminisces over the Québec referendum to provide a critical analysis of modern Western society. “We live in an era of extreme intellectual mediocrity,” he asserts with tremendous passion for the vanished movement. The Internet revolution, he claims, has corrupted the mind and is at fault for the declining state of the contemporary social-media driven culture. (Fret not, however; one is not forced to swallow bitter long-winded historical lectures throughout the play. I daresay Montreal audiences would even be eager to savour additional servings of his musings on René Lévesque.)
Adding another layer to the narrative is the conversation on ecology, a subtheme which most prominently lends itself to Eo Sharp’s rustic yet elegant set design. Towering trunks connotative of forest trees effectively fill the vertical space of the black box theatre as video projections provide rich texture to the background. Luc Prairie’s masterly lighting always deserves mention, and here it illuminates with fine focus one of our favourite details of the production elements: elongated strands of shimmering, silvery wiring with the occasional tangle that stand to us as parallels of Edouard’s own failing neural circuitry.
Under the leadership of Roy Surette, who here makes his last directorial stint as the outgoing Artistic Director of the Centaur, and assistant director Stuart Fink, Jean Marchand is wholly enthralling and convincing in the challenging portrayal of a complicated man whose brightness has been dimmed by a devastating disease (his brilliance, in fact, makes the disintegration of his mental faculties all the more tragic). Marchand is poised and nuanced, successfully demonstrating the subtleties of progressive dementia.
It is he, de facto, whom you will solely remember in retrospect. While the supporting ensemble of four are fully adept in their craft, their characters are frustratingly underdeveloped – and frankly, rather unlikeable for their collective infidelity towards the aging family patriarch (the exception might be Silveira’s Berenice, redeemable for her growing affection towards Marchand’s Edouard). True that the arrogant protagonist is no charmer himself, but it’s difficult to side with and find great sympathy in a flightly spouse, an absentee offspring, an irresponsible son-in-law-to-be, and a sulky teen in light of his disheartening condition.
The characters’ realistic reactions, though, beg us to ask the question: when we too fall to our knees, will our loved ones be willing to go the distance with us?
You Will Remember Me holds up a frightening mirror, forcing us to confront a future one may inevitably face (Alzheimer’s hits painfully close to home for this reviewer). Archambault’s eloquent script prompts us to reflect on our own approaches to our mutable existences and on the cognitive health that we tend to neglect and take for granted – particularly among the distractions of the digital age.
Here, the loss of independence and identity takes on multiple meanings in light of the gentle political tone of the piece. What constitutes memory and how history shapes people are topics that sparked our curiosity amidst the story’s call for compassion. And, despite its wrinkles, Centaur’s You Will Remember Me sits alongside Tableau D’Hôte’s Another Home Invasion as one of the more recent productions in Montreal English language theatre to graciously incorporate the delicate subject of dementia into a sharp, humorous narrative (although, admittedly, the latter still has the upper hand for its visceral impact on us.) Abundant in wit and spirit, don’t miss it before it’s gone come April 2nd.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
Where: Centaur Theatre (453 St. François-Xavier, H2Y 2T1)When: March 7th to April 2nd, 2017
Running Time: 105 minutes (no intermission)Admission: $51 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings), $45 (Tuesday, Wednesday evenings), $39 (matinées); seniors $43.50 (evenings), $38 (matinées); under 30 $36.50; students $28Box Office: 514-288-3161 | www.centaurtheatre.com
Translated by Bobby Theodore
Directed by Roy Surette
With Charles Bender, Lally Cadeau, Jean Marchand, Johanna Nutter and Amanda Silveira
Assistant Director Stuart Fink | Set & Costume Designer Eo Sharp | Lighting Designer Luc Prairie | Composer & Sound Designer Keith Thomas | Stage Manager Samira Rose |
Apprentice Stage Manager Philippe Gobeille