A Memorable Play on Memory

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act

 

You Will Remember Me (American Premiere)
by Francois Archambault
Directed by Dan Foster
Executive Produced by Denise Bessette & Olivia Sklar
Through Oct. 29
Whippoorwill Hall (at North Castle Library)
19 Whippoorwill East, Armonk, N.Y. 10504
Hudson Stage Company
HudsonStage.com
(914) 271-2811

As I sat watching “You Will Remember Me,” I found myself nodding. Not nodding off as in falling asleep. Not even close. I was nodding in recognition and agreement with many of the viewpoints being channeled through the characters on stage.

Montreal playwright Francois Archambault has a lot on his mind. He’s interested in ideas. Alas, “people aren’t interested in ideas, they only want to feel,” bemoans his lead character Edouard Beauchamin. The retired professor of history is short on memory but not on grievances about the declining state of culture.  

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Cast and creative team of You Will Remember Me: (from left) Susannah Schulman Rogers (Isabelle), playwright Francois Archambault, John Hutton (Edouard), director Dan Foster, Ella Dershowitz (Berenice), Susan Pellegrino (Madeleine), producer Denise Bessette, Chris Kipniak (Patrick), choreographer Tony Yazbeck, producer Olivia Sklar, script translator Bobby Theodore. Photo by Bruce Apar

 

The author calls ours “an era of extreme intellectual mediocrity,” in part because “being angry and name-calling isn’t thinking — it isn’t even particularly serious behavior.” As we’re all too familiar from fact-free, emotionally-charged social media posts — especially about politics — “you don’t even have to know what you’re talking about.”

He coins a lot of choice lines along those lines. I could fill almost this entire space with the slings and arrows he aims — with unerring accuracy — at our collective foibles.

EDOUARD IS BOUNCED AROUND LIKE A RUGBY BALL IN A SCRUM

All those sentiments are expressed by Edouard, whose frustrating struggles with progressive memory loss, while still in his sixties, are ironic and made more tragic because he is such a conscientious thinker.  He could pinpoint a litany of historical dates and events but, as the cliche goes, don’t ask him what he ate for breakfast.

He also keeps forgetting the identity of the young lady (Ella Dershowitz) in her 20s watching over him, even though her dad Patrick (Chris Kipniak) is dating Edouard’s daughter Isabelle (Susannah Schulman Rogers). Save for Ms. Dershowitz, all the actors are members of Actors Equity.

The twentysomething’s name is Berenice, which connects her in Edouard’s addled mind to a long lost family member whose middle name is the same. As Edouard’s condition worsens, and becomes unbearable for his wife and daughter to handle, he is bounced around repeatedly, and not very gently, much like a rugby ball in a scrum.

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Edouard (John Hutton) isn’t certain about who Berenice (Ella Dershowitz) is, but he is certain about who he wants her to be. Photo by Rana Faure

REMARKABLY CONVINCING AND TOUCHING PORTRAIT OF DEMENTIA 

Patrick’s distracted daughter warms to the task of an attentive nursemaid, accepting the guise he assigns to her of his absent loved one.

Francois Archambault told me at the play’s opening night that he was inspired to write about the subject of dementia by someone close to him who has Alzheimer’s. The person would ask Mr. Archambault what he was working on, and “five minutes later, he would start talking about the same thing. I started making up the answer.” That scenario is mirrored in the play.  

However, other than what the he observed about this person’s behavior, he relied on his own writer’s instincts to conjure the story and its dialogue. “I tried to imagine how it is to struggle with that,” he said. 

Based on what we witness on stage, he did a praiseworthy job of it.

Mr. Hutton is remarkably convincing and touching in the challenging role of a proud intellectual whose joy for life and for big ideas is not about to be dimmed by the ravages of a devastating disease. The cast members who orbit around his star turn form a solid ensemble of alternating emotional connection and mistrust.

A bonus of sorts is an unexpected brief but delightful dance interlude that is used to lyrically illuminate the various relationships. It is choreographed by Broadway’s multi-talented Tony Yazbeck, who was a Tony Award nominee for “On the Town” and was in “Finding Neverland.” There is judicious use in other scenes as well of arresting sound (William Neal) and visual imagery.

Andrew Gmoser’s masterly lighting schemes always deserve mention. Guided by cerebral director and stage magician Dan Foster — who is co-producer of Hudson Stage with Denise Bessette and Olivia Sklar — it all adds up to an engaging, compelling theater experience.

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Edouard’s wife Madeleine (Susan Pellegrino, left) informs daughter Isabelle (Susannah Schulman Rogers) of her plans. Photo by Rana Faure

HUMANS ARE LIKE PLANT SPECIES THAT INVADE ALIEN TERRITORIES

I found Edouard an inspiring character from whom I could learn new things. He likens humans to plant species in how both exhibit a natural inclination toward expanding their territories.

His curiosity about ecology lends itself to the elegant stage design, which is a proud signature of every production at Hudson Stage. Here, Steven Kemp earns applause for his striking ingenuity. The monochromatic motif fills the proscenium space with white cylindrical shapes that emulate stalagmites and stalactites, to connote trees in a forest. There also are outbursts of silver flora to represent common phragmites. Even if you’re unsure how to pronounce it (frag-mighties), you’ve surely seen it around northern Westchester. 

Phragmites are tall and slender amber reeds that populate fields or roadsides and sway lazily in the gentlest breeze. Their notoriety for crowding out other plant life reminds Edouard of mass culture killing off high-minded culture, or of superpowers like the U.S. and China bulldozing whatever obstructs their path to world domination.

For me, the strands of the phragmites stood as apt analogs for the frayed synapses tormenting both Edouard and those in his thrall.

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John Hutton as Edouard (l) repeatedly asks Patrick (Chris Kipniak) what he does for a living.                   Photo by Rana Faure

 WE LET NOISE DROWN NUANCE

Edouard’s onsetting dementia, in my mind anyhow, is a metaphor for a self-induced dementia in society at large, as we give ourselves over to simulated reality and ersatz emotions rooted not in passion but in pretense. We bicker over weighty matters we don’t even take the time or energy to fully understand. We talk before we think. We let noise drown nuance. We let superficial party labels dictate who we are and what we think. We don’t work hard enough to distinguish ourselves through rigorous introspection and the humility of self-doubt. We let ourselves down through sheer laziness.

There’s an existential overlay to the goings-on in “You Will Remember Me,” articulated in Edouard’s dismissive declaration that “You are all prisoners of an endless present moment.” On its face, that observation is an indictment of how we mock the substance of ourselves through social media, which glibly devolves character into caricature and ideas into idiocies. What Edouard says doubles as a depressing description of Alzheimer’s patients, who steadily lose their grasp on the continuum of personal content and context.

As we watched the play, my wife Elyse and I happened to be sitting next to a woman from the Hudson Valley Alzheimer’s Association, Jonelle Ward, director of outreach. Afterwards, she explained to us the distinction between the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s. The former is a general term that encompasses many different conditions, of which Alzheimer’s is the most notorious and prevalent. In some cases, said Ms. Ward, other forms of dementia are reversible.

ADVANCED CARE PLANNING

The Alzheimer’s Association hosts free informational sessions in cooperation with Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS). The next is Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 7:30-9 p.m. at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners. It will offer “advice on how to handle tough topics when a loved one has dementia.” For more information, visit Alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

Another free opportunity is offered on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the offices of elder law attorney Salvatore A. Di Costanzo in Yorktown Heights. He is hosting an informal “Fireside Chat” for adult children who want to learn more about such topics as estate planning. Additional free Fireside Chats are scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 29. For more information, contact Melanie Harrison at mharrison@mfd-law.com or (914) 245-2440.                      

ADDITIONAL PRODUCTION CREDITS

Translated by Bobby Theodore
Costumes by Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Stage Managed by Katie Kavett (Actors Equity)
Casting by McCorkle Casting Ltd.


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency and Certified Google AdWords Professionals. As “Bruce The Blog,” Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers and PennySaver, and a contributing writer for Westchester Magazine. Follow Pinpoint Marketing & Design on Facebook and LinkedIn, and as @Pinpointments on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.