Lesson in Forgetting, English Language Premiere
Pleiades Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts
Cylla von Tiedemann
Sometimes, works of artistry defy commentary. In the right hands of a committed artistic team, live theatre is skillfully crafted to become either beautifully cerebral and/or sharply felt within the heart. This is Pleiades Theatre’s ‘Lesson in Forgetting’.
But I will do my best to comment.
I attended this production with a friend who was intrigued as I was. We dissected as many theatrical elements of the production during the car ride all the way back to Oshawa following and then wondered if we were doing justice and being fair regarding this extraordinary presentation. If anything, we hope there might be future talkbacks (at least one?) for future audiences as the depth and breadth of this, what I will call, ‘mystical production’ remains with me even as I write at this moment.
HE (a stunning, marvelous performance by Andrew Moodie) has suffered a massive brain trauma as a result of a car crash some years earlier. At the top of the show, we hear the crash so a possible trigger warning for future audiences. Ever since, the only thing HE can remember is how much he loves his wife SHE (immeasurably poignant and emotional character arc work by Ma-Anne Dionisio). SHE is confined to caring for him for the rest of her days and wishes nothing more than for him to forget that he loves her so that she might yet start over on her own path of life.
Initially Reese Cowley as the Narrator puzzled me. Why is the person there? I needed to sit overnight on this question.
When I re-read Ash Knight’s Director’s Programme note, then it suddenly made sense to me.
Cowley’s confident performance at the top of the show where we are introduced to these two characters is noteworthy. The Narrator becomes the split in SHE’s mind and (spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph), thus the reason why SHE is dressed in red and the Narrator is dressed in white. SHE has been broken and bleeding for so long as she does what she can to be of assistance to HE. The Narrator becomes that split in SHE’s mind as she is constantly wondering if there is something else for her beyond the struggles she now faces. How often have each of us wondered about this when we believe we can’t deal with our own personal struggles and challenges?
Jackie Chau advantageously places the set in the middle of the auditorium with the audience on both sides. This sense of free flow allows for actor maneuverability and for the audience to be drawn immediately into the story action. Stages left and right are mirrors of each other as we see rectangular risers and boxes placed equidistant from each other. Marissa Orjalo’s selection of eerily sounding music coupled with Arun Srinivasan spectral lighting design foreshadows unearthly and metaphysical visions and movement. I loved that feeling of anticipation in hearing something and then wondering what might occur shortly.
Denyse Karn’s Projection designs are breathtaking to watch as they appear so true to life that I felt like I wanted to reach out and feel the leaves falling into my hands. At one point, when SHE mentions how everything just stopped after the accident, the falling leaves are perfectly timed to cease at that moment. Exhilarating to watch and to take it all in visually.
Jackie Chau’s costume designs suitably reflect the other worldliness captured in her set design. Dionisio majestically utilizes her deep red dress in a definitive, regal like movement. Moodie’s subtle earth tones of matching pajamas, beige housecoat and comfortable looking slippers offer a visual juxtaposition of two individuals who care deeply for each other but are worlds apart on account of the trauma and its aftermath.
According to Andrey Tarasiuk, Pleiades’s Artistic Director, Haché’s script is super poetic and delicately written. How veritably true is this statement. Periodically, I found myself closing my eyes and just listening and hearing each spoken word of the text delivered with clarity, definition and understanding. Not once did Moodie or Dionisio’s monologue delivery ever sounded rushed. They instinctively allowed the words to speak and to sound what they mean and infer, an important task for all good actors to attain.
To me, it appeared Director Ash Knight tenderly cares very much about the three individuals in this production. Might I even say he loves this piece as he asks us, in his Director’s Programme Note, if love is enough because by going deeper into the complexities of love between this man and woman, we realize love’s complexity challenges our minds and hearts.
Both Ma-Anne and Andrew are certainly up for this challenge. I had the chance to interview her a few weeks ago and asked her how rehearsals are going. She stated the piece is a wonderful observation about the vulnerability and fragility of the human mind and heart, and the human spirit. And it is, but I’ll go one step further.
What makes this production memorable for me is Knight’s vision in centering real grounded performances from Dionisio and Moodie. One example occurred in the dancing choreographed by Nicola Pantin. From my seat in the house, just watching Ma-Anne and Andrew move and sway themselves, their bodies and, ultimately, their souls in time with the music and with each other was sensually and sensitively arranged through Intimacy Director’s Siobhan Richardson’s coaching. There was nothing erotic or sexy about the dancing or movement between HE and SHE. It’s all about that spiritual and soulful connection we all wish to have in our lives, and that made the dancing bewitching to view.
Again, in her recent interview with me, Dionisio reiterated how she has trained herself for the work to come through her, and never making it about her. How true this statement is for both actors. Never once during the heightened, tender, anguished, and wrenching emotions did either of them ever venture over the top into unbelievable melodramatic emoting, not once. Near the end of the production, I felt a gasp of breath as if I had been slapped in the face when we learn something about HE from SHE, but Dionisio moves forward as if to say it’s important to know, but going forward is it really worth it to know and to remember?
Final Comments: There is a line from the play that resonated with me and I wrote it down in the dark hoping I could decipher it later: ‘Your body has forgotten desire, but not love.” In her playwright’s Progamme Note, Emma Haché asks of us if love is sufficient given what we may encounter in our lives? What kind of love then? Familial love, selfless love, unconditional love?
Questions upon questions upon questions….but that’s what makes good theatre.
This ‘Lesson in Forgetting’ is good theatre.
Running Time: approximately 75 minutes with no intermission
Masks in effect at the Theatre
Production runs to May 22 in the Michael Young Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.youngcentre.ca or call 1-416-866-8666.
LESSON IN FORGETTING by Emma Haché Translated by Taliesin McEnaney with John Van Burek
Commissioned by Pleiades Theatre
Director: Ash Knight
Choreographer: Nicola Pantin
Set & Costume Design: Jackie Chau
Lighting Design: Arun Srinivasan
Projection Design: Denyse Karn
Sound Design & Composition: Marissa Orjalo
Intimacy Director: Siobhan Richardson
Stage Manager: Laura Lakatosh
Production Manager & Technical Director: Madeline McKinnell
Performers: Reese Cowley, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Andrew Moodie