You Will Remember Me: bad memories all around

That which is fiction can still be true. R.H. Thompson as Edouard. That's the best kind of fiction, the kind that tells a story of...

That which is fiction can still be true.

R.H. Thompson as Edouard.
That's the best kind of fiction, the kind that tells a story of imaginary people doing imaginary things in imaginary places, but that nonetheless could have actually happened.

Too often, though, authors and playwrights use their stories as tools to hammer home some point - usually a political point, because politics is the one arena where knowledge and expertise on a topic is never a requirement for having a "valid" opinion - at the expense of plot, character development, internal consistency, common sense. The words may be beautiful, but they're used to construct an Escheresque, hyper-subjective mash so disconnected from reality as to be utterly meaningless. All the beautiful words in the world cannot hide that these works are nothing but mental masturbation.

Fran├žois Archambault's You Will Remember Me, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, is, unfortunately, that kind of fiction. Following the mental decline of a prematurely senile, once-famous Quebecois intellectual, this play is, I suppose, intended to be an indictment of how modern Quebecois culture is declining in the face of modern globalizing technology.

The acting is fine. No one was overpowered by R.H. Thompson in the lead, and everyone was able to bring an authenticity to their roles that prevented the play from sinking into the merely maudlin. This is why I love the smaller theatre companies: as a rule, they attract actors who give so much more of a shit about their roles than do the ones who work the mega-theatres down on King Street - and it shows so clearly in their performances.

No, the real problem is the script, and the asteroid-sized chip on Archambault's shoulder about Quebec culture. R.H. Thompson plays Edouard, a professor of history with a strong Separatist political tendency, who is suffering some progressive dementia, probably Alzheimer’s. He’s bombastic, arrogant, and pedantic. He’s also a lech, constantly recalling how he tried to sleep with his students. Not a particularly good exemplar of the intellectual academic. (Why can’t someone write a play about how academics really are?) Archambault either has unresolved issues with his own professors, or perhaps just daddy issues. Either way, I’m not enthused when I have to sit through a play that is largely an exercise in the playwright’s self-therapy. And if I want to read blustery political diatribes, I can always read Ayn Rand.

The play is riddled with ridiculously subjective, over-emotional, and scientific inaccuracies born of the most naive understanding of how reality works. But it's not clear whether this was intentional - to show Edouard's continued mental decline - or a symptom of the playwright's inadequate education.

Perhaps the most serious flaw is how dementia itself is rendered. Reality is far messier than what we’re shown here. My mother died of Alzheimer’s, and I have an aunt who suffers it now; I know what it’s like. What’s shown in this play is something else. Edouard’s behaviour itself is carefully arranged to advance the plot in service to Archambault’s polemic. What results is a very poor analogy to the playwright’s perception of the impending doom of Quebec culture. Even the terribly important issue of death with dignity is given nothing more than an amateur’s treatment in the closing minutes of the play. And the play ends long before the inevitably messy final act of Alzheimer's progression thus leaving the whole matter of Edouard's ultimate legacy - to his family and to Quebec - entirely and most dissatisfyingly unresolved.

Every character embodies a single archetypical response to such diseases - which is convenient for plot development, but utterly impossible in the real world. There’s the wife who wants to move on with her life and who can’t even wait for her husband to lose enough of his mind to not recognize her; the daughter who is old enough to understand what’s going on yet young enough to rightly care more for her own future than her father’s past; the boyfriend who helps his partner’s father as much as he can; and the boyfriend’s daughter (presumably from a previous relationship) who oh-so-conveniently is a close enough match to Edouard’s other daughter - the one who suicided at 19 years of age - and who therefore stands as the standard character intended to get Edouard to say and think various Really Deep Things about life before his brain turns to absolute mush.

In the end, I was left wondering what the point was of this play. It offered nothing of particular value, especially to a Federalist intellectual academic like me.

I suppose someone less fortunate than me, someone without the education and life experiences, might gain something from this play. But then the gross inaccuracies of the play mean that what one might learn will probably be wrong.



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The Trouble with Normal...: You Will Remember Me: bad memories all around
You Will Remember Me: bad memories all around
The Trouble with Normal...
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