— Photo of Kevin McNulty and Sereana Milani by Lisa Wu
YOU WILL REMEMBER ME
This was Jerry's review of the Ruby Slippers production at The Cultch in 2015.
I’ve lost count of the friends who have tales of dealing with their parents’ dementia or Alzheimer’s. My family has had our brush with it, but nothing as awful as what Eduard’s family goes through in You Will Remember Me. Soon many of us Boomers will be going through it ourselves, so this play holds up a pretty scary mirror.
Diane Brown’s production continues Ruby Slippers Theatre’s series of Crucial New Voices from Quebec in English Translation. A decade ago Ruby Slippers had great success with François Archambault’s The Leisure Society, a lacerating look at the hollow lives of a yuppie couple. Here, in another fine colloquial translation by Bobby Theodore, Archambault underdevelops his secondary characters and struggles to find the story, but his portrait of a bright, complicated man losing his mind seems frighteningly real. Kevin McNulty’s performance as the man stepping off the edge of a cliff is devastating.
McNulty’s Eduard is a retired university professor and public intellectual of some renown in Quebec whose dementia takes the form of bouts of extreme anxiety along with an inability to remember what happened, what he’s said or whom he’s met ten minutes before—though his intelligence and long-term memory are unimpeded. McNulty’s beautiful low-key performance shows Eduard hanging onto his intellectual arrogance while quietly terrified of his mental capacity’s rapid deterioration. Sometimes half-aware of things he has forgotten, Eduard seems able to force himself to remember or enable himself to forget in certain circumstances. McNulty navigates Eduard’s treacherous passages with great skill and poignancy.
Eduard also challenges the patience and compassion of his family. We hear that he was renowned for having sex with his female students, which may account for why, near the beginning of the play, his wife Madeleine (Patti Allan) decides to dump him with their daughter Isabelle (Marci T. House) without any warning and leave him for another man.
Isabelle has her own busy life as a TV news reporter so she leaves her father with her unemployed partner, Patrick (Craig Erickson), who in turn leaves Eduard with his sarcastic teenage daughter Berenice (Sereana Malani). Patrick is unhappy with the way Berenice lives her life, and Isabelle doesn’t even want her in their house, but Berenice eventually proves to be the ideal companion for Eduard, who at times confuses her with his own daughter of similar name who killed herself at nineteen.
None of the backstories is sufficiently developed. We never learn much about anyone’s relationship with anyone else or why Isabelle seems so angry so much of the time. Heidi Wilkinson’s set also seems a little off-kilter, surrounded by what look like corn stalks but are, I think, supposed to represent the reeds Eduard complains are taking over the local environment, one of his metaphors for what’s wrong with the world. But when he wanders though them, he’s actually supposed to be walking through the woods, so the visual references are disconcerting.
Of the three least developed characters, Erickson makes the best of his Patrick. Malani is funny and charming as Berenice, although the character’s transition from mouthy adolescent to compassionate caregiver is pretty abrupt. But in the end it’s Eduard whom we remember, with fingers crossed that his journey won’t be ours.