How important is memory?

Scene from You Will Remember Me | Photo by Tim Matheson

How do we define ourselves? By our accomplishments? Our jobs? Our families? Or just what we remember? 

These are the questions Diane Brown asks us to ask ourselves as director of the play You Will Remember Me (from the play Tu te souviendras de moi by François Archambault, translated by Bobby Theodore) showing at the Gateway Theatre from Feb. 2–11. Main character Edouard Beauchemin, played by Kevin McNulty, is a professor forced to retire due to dementia and the effects resonate not only with his family but with society as a whole.

McNulty says Beauchemin is forced to retire, against his will, due to his failing mind. Beauchemin is very political, loves history, is a nationalist in Quebec, and considers himself a ‘”ladies’ man.”

McNulty was offered the lead role by director Diane Brown with whom he previously worked on the French-Canadian play Life Savers, by Serge Boucher.

“As the main character goes deeper into the fog, he loses his ego and lets go of his accomplishments and becomes a very different person,“ says Brown, the co-founder of Ruby Slippers Theatre who is producing You Will Remember Me.

Brown says ultimately the question the play is asking is: “if you did forget everything and all you had was the present moment would that be enough?”

“It’s an incredibly relevant and important topic. We need to do more to help and support these people, find a cure if we can. We can’t sweep it under a rug anymore and lock them away. These are our love ones,” says Brown.

“A beautifully orchestrated journey”

According to Brown, playwright Archambault is brilliant at painting the family portrait in its complexities and the nuances in the relationships we have with each other.

“The play is very resonant and very poetic and very humorous and I must say for the subject matter, not distasteful but very human. We really feel for these three-dimensional characters –the main character has a sort of wry humour about him and as he disappears he remembers things he has long repressed. It’s actually a very complicated and beautifully orchestrated journey he goes on. There are many different levels of what’s going on here,” Brown says.

Brown explains it is not about making fun or light of the disease but how the characters cope with it – Edouard can see what is happening to himself and can make fun of himself.

“It’s in how we handle these situations that the depth of our humanity comes to the forefront. It is ultimately a story about a man who becomes more human,” Brown says.

McNulty says the play is very Canadian and the family aspect is familiar; people can understand the hardships of the caretakers involved.

“If you see a play like this, especially for people who are very close to it [the subject matter], hopefully there’s something of a release and hope. The audience thinks, ‘they’re portraying something onstage that I know and their hardships are something I’m struggling with myself’,” says McNulty.

The Process

Kevin McNulty. | Photo by Tim Matheson

Brown has much praise for McNulty and the other cast members who she says were able to come together as a family very quickly.

“Theatre is a really intimate job (laughs). You’re together everyday, eight hours a day… very quickly you have to build bonds with people and trust them, especially if you’re playing a family – I saw that right away. These are professionals, they’re very good and they have to take risks. There are a lot of emotional risks in this play,” Brown says.

McNulty adds to this and commends the work and efforts of his fellow cast members. He says Brown is very gentle with them and continues to nudge them forward, towards creating their best work.

“I was thinking of hanging up my skates after this play…but after talking with my wife in the play (actress Patti Allan) who I’ve worked with before, we talked about the magic and the interaction with other actors onstage and what we do as actors and just how incredible it is. It’s good for the soul – that’s why I keep doing it,” says McNulty.

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