Hey Calgary – cut this review out so it won’t slip your mind. You’ve got a special play coming your way next month. François Archambault’s Tu te souviendras de moi is the sharpest and most thoughtful Canadian stage drama to investigate the mysteries of memory since John Mighton’s Half Life.
You Will Remember Me, as it is called in its English translation by Bobby Theodore, will be the opening show of the Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays in March. If director Vanessa Porteous’s production is anywhere as good as the simple but affecting one Fernand Rainville has mounted in French at La Licorne, you’re in for an unforgettable evening.
I’m not addressing Montrealers because there’s no need – the run of Tu te souviendras de moi is already sold out.
Guy Nadon, who plays the main character Édouard, is a big star in Quebec, and delivers a larger-than-life, loveable performance here. A university professor, public intellectual and long-time sovereigntist, Édouard’s bugaboo since retiring is a technology- and social media-obsessed society in which, according to him, people are no longer capable of “complete sentences with words of more than two syllables.”
Now, however, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, he himself is finding sentences difficult to complete. Or, as he puts it in a joke that masks his fear: Fed up with the state of the world, his brain is pulling the plug.
We meet him as his wife Madeleine (Johanne-Marie Tremblay) deposits him with their journalist daughter Isabelle (Marie-Hélène Thibault) for a weekend. Madeleine is fed up, too, from watching him all the time and from endlessly repetitive conversations. But Isabelle has no time to care for her father: Called out to report on a flood in rural Quebec, she leaves him with her new partner Patrick (Claude Despins), who in turn leaves him with his smartphone-obsessed daughter Bérénice (an electric Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez).
Édouard’s interactions with Patrick and Bérénice, whom he does not recognize and keeps forgetting having met, have a hint of the Beckettian in their tragicomic circularity. Possessing an emotional distance from his plight, they each play games with him or invent other selves to pass the time. One of the most beautiful passages comes when Patrick says he is a cosmonaut, and the two men discuss seeing the Earth from an airplane versus a spaceship.
Archambault’s script skirts sentimentality and capitalizes on one of the upsetting paradoxes about dementia: While those afflicted lose the ability to retain certain memories, they can also lose the ability to block out others. A tragedy that Édouard’s family has purposefully tried to forget for decades re-emerges as he loses his filter, causing his interactions with Bérénice to take a surprise twist.
While Archambault is not anti-technology like Édouard, the playwright does toy with the idea that, in reducing our attention spans and outsourcing our memory, the Internet is making us all resemble Alzheimer’s patients. It’s no wonder that Édouard and 19-year-old Bérénice are the characters who form the closest bond.
Many conversations in Tu te souviendras de moi revolve around Quebec politics. “Je me souviens” is the bedevillingly ambiguous motto that replaced “La belle province” on licence plates during the first Parti Québécois government in the 1970s, and, in its references to referendums and René Lévesque, Archambault’s play is in part a requiem for a Quiet Revolution generation not going quietly into the night. But while this is a play of ideas, it’s a rich, accessible and frequently funny one that never neglects the emotional stakes. I’ll be interested to know what you think of Édouard in English, Calgary.
Tu te souviendras de moi runs until Feb. 22.