Descent into dementia

Hopeful story looks for meaning in the present moment

Vanessa Porteous artistic director of Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) says when she first read the French version of François Archambault’s You Will Remember Me she thought “We have to do this play. It’s beautiful.”

“When you read a play like that you just feel really grateful you’re in the biz” she adds.

Now a couple of years later Porteous directs the world première of Bobby Theodore’s English translation of the play as part of the final instalment of the playRites festival.

This actually marks the third time ATP has premièred a work by the Governor General’s Award-winning Archambault following on the heels of The Leisure Society and :15 Seconds.

In You Will Remember Me audiences meet Edouard (Duval Lang) a powerful force in his community and family patriarch who is suffering from dementia. Edouard’s wife Madeleine (Maureen Thomas) and his daughter Isabelle (Kate Newby) are struggling to care for him.

“It’s about the characters dealing with the problem rather than a medical play about dementia. It’s not the story of a guy descending into dementia; it’s the story of a man coming to terms with his state” says Porteous adding that the play’s action takes place over a couple of months.

Porteous say s You Will Remember Me steers clear of overly sentimental territory because of the “truth of the characters” involved.

“They’re very flawed just like us. They’re struggling with this terrible situation of dealing with a major illness. It doesn’t make them better people. Instead all of the stresses and strains of family life are exacerbated by the crisis” she explains.

Isabelle’s boyfriend Patrick (Geoff Pounsett) and his teenaged daughter Berenice (Katey Hoffman) also enter the picture and a touching relationship develops between the technology-obsessed teen and Edouard.

Based on her research Porteous says it’s not uncommon for a person who is losing their memory to develop a connection with a stranger because then they don’t have to live up to their past.

One of the many themes You Will Remember Me touches upon is the importance of embracing the present.

“The play asks ‘How do I be present in the moment and enjoy what’s available to me now instead of projecting forward into the future which is uncertain or hanging on to my past griefs and triumphs?’” says Porteous.

“We talked to some folks who are living with family members who have dementia and they told us ‘You’ve got to enjoy each moment.’”

You Will Remember Me also extends beyond the individual.

“It’s a story about a community a people a society. What is Canada’s place in the Americas? What legacy will we leave behind as a nation?” Porteous adds that the play addresses these questions through a distinctly Quebeçois lens.

Porteous says almost everyone she has spoken with about the play comes forward with his or her own story about caring for someone who is ill or knowing someone who has dementia which she says is a testament to the tale’s universality.

“It has so much humanity. It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s incredibly uplifting. It’s a very hopeful story. It’s just a darn good play.”