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ARTS: What does it mean to remember?

March 9th, 2016 · No Comments

Play starring R.H. Thomson opens at Tarragon

COURTESY CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN Warm and funny: You Will Remember Me is about a family struggling to care for a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

COURTESY CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN
Warm and funny: You Will Remember Me is about a family struggling to care for a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

By Annemarie Brissenden

“Who are you, again?” asks Edouard, the family patriarch at the centre of You Will Remember Me, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre until April 10. It’s a much repeated, at times humorous, refrain that serves not only as a reminder of the dementia that is subtly ravaging his memories, but also hints at the broader question posed by the play: what constitutes our identity?

“You can’t assume the next generation will value what you’ve bequeathed to it” —Joel Greenberg, director

Or simply put, who are we, really?

Originally written in French by the Governor General’s Award-winning Québécois playwright François Archambault, at its heart the play — translated into English by Bobby Theodore — is about a family struggling to care for a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In a particularly poignant twist, the loved one grappling with such pathological forgetfulness is a man who has spent his life dedicated to remembering. Edouard, an accomplished history professor, is also a prominent lion of the Quebec sovereignty movement.

Annex resident R.H. Thomson, director Joel Greenberg’s first choice for the role, plays the lead role.

“I was looking for a man in his mid to late 60s with gravitas who would be credible as a public figure; somebody passionate about politics,” explains Greenberg.

Thomson, who likens the play to Hamlet’s soliloquy, says he was “drawn to its richness and density. It’s an elegant play about this journey.”

As Edouard navigates his memory loss, questions arise about the nature of identity. Is it constant, something that’s distinct from our experiences? Or is it a construct formed from the collection of memories — both cultural and personal — that we lug around, somewhat like an albatross slung about our necks? If so, does that construct change with every social interaction and every experience? Can we ever have any control over how others will remember us?

Thomson refers to Willem de Kooning, an abstract artist who had Alzheimer’s, to illustrate the connection between memory and identity. As de Kooning’s illness progressed, his paintings changed. But did that mean that the artist was regressing to nothingness, or that he was rediscovering a purer self? As de Kooning lost the connective tissue of his memories, perhaps his abstract paintings in fact became far more accurate.

“Were the paintings more from the core of who he was?” reflects Thomson.

Underpinning the personal here is the political, in which, Greenberg explains, dementia becomes a metaphor for how a society remembers itself.

He first read the play two years ago, just after it had opened in Montreal, during the last few weeks of the Quebec election. Greenberg says it was compelling to see the personal and political written into the play at a time when a society’s own identity was not only being challenged, but was also challenging itself.

Though Quebec sovereignty is not the centre of the play, says Greenberg, “it is central for the main character, who is very fond of being a much quoted voice during the Quiet Revolution”.

“The Quebec founding myth is quite an intoxicating idea if you are a Quebec sovereigntist,” adds Thomson. “It’s an exhilarating idea if you believe in it.”

What happens, though, if the people around you stop believing in it?

Edouard is written as a really important voice for the Quebec movement; a man who thought those who followed him would be just as passionate about sovereignty.

“But you can’t assume the next generation will value what you’ve bequeathed to it,” says Greenberg, who adds that part of what Edouard discovers is that “what he has to say is long past being interesting”.

The director, who is also the co-founder and artistic director of Studio 180, which is co-producing the play with the Tarragon, describes the play as “the beginning of a conversation; not a play that tries to tie up anything”.

He says that Studio 180 looks for interesting and provocative subjects that they hope will promote public discourse. And while it can be an emotionally taxing play, it’s not all grim seriousness. There’s plenty of warmth and humour to be had, as well.

“The situations and conflicts arise in all families,” says Greenberg, stressing the play’s universal appeal.

After all, we all want to be remembered, in one way or another.

You Will Remember Me runs at the Tarragon Theatre until April 10. For further information, or to buy tickets, please visit http://www.tarragontheatre.com.

 

Also by Annemarie Brissenden:

Drink L’Elixir d’Amore on Bloor (February 2016)

Hooked on Language (September 2015)

Delivering history in Harbord Village (April 2015)

Tags: Annex · Arts