By Caleigh Crow
We arrive at the sushi place, having made the short walk from Centaur Theatre together. I don’t intend to order anything substantial since it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve already eaten, but a tempting bowl-shaped decal on the window declares “RAMEN SPECIAL”. The chef is taking advantage of a dip in temperature, and indeed it’s a full ten degrees colder than it was a few days ago, and I need warming up. Stuart Fink, my late-lunch or early-dinner companion, orders sushi, which is what we came here for in the first place, and we get chatting right away. Stuart is the Assistant Director of Centaur Theatre’s production of You Will Remember Me. Originally written in French by Francois Archambault, the plot centers around a former University professor, Edouard who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The play delves into the effects of the disease on increasingly complicated family relations as well as examines collective memory in Quebec. The Centaur’s production will be the Montreal premiere of the English translation by Bobby Theodore.
“When our Quebecois actors got a hold of the text we were finding a lot of things that people perceived differently out West than we as Quebecers perceived; as far as the translation, as far as how Quebecers speak, and how Quebecers react to things. That we kept noticing this [phrase] might have worked outside Quebec but real Quebecers are going to notice there’s something quite off here, so that was a fun discussion with the translator and the playwright, making sure that our production is true to our Quebecois roots. Our Quebecois culture.” Stuart explains. I listen in awe. It’s not often a production team gets to have input on the script, which, depending on who you ask, is sacrosanct. Stuart indicates not all of their feedback was eventually incorporated, but the team at the Centaur was mindful that “the playwright makes the final decision,” Stuart says, “and we respect that.”
Stuart tells me that the actors created a list of things to discuss with the translator and the playwright, and that it was the Director, Roy Surette, who brought the list to the writers. You Will Remember Me will be Mr. Surette’s final production before leaving the Centaur and Montreal for more Westerly shores. This is recent news in the Montreal theatre scene, in fact, when Stuart was hired for You Will Remember Me, he didn’t know it would be Mr. Surette’s last show for Centaur. I ask Stuart to reflect on working with Mr. Surette, someone Stuart says he’s “looked up to for years.”
Before answering Stuart takes a long, thoughtful pause. I can appreciate wanting to properly articulate the answer. He begins carefully, “Roy,” he pauses again, “trusts the process. There were a lot of times, as a director myself, there would be things I would see [during rehearsal] that I would want to correct right away but he wouldn’t. He understood a lot of these things fix themselves along the way when you’ve got these talented people. Stay calm and remember things fall into place and you have to trust that.” Stuart rests, glances out the window then back at me, and grins, “And just a good sense of fun. He has such good sense of fun and creation.”
Our food arrives, my steaming bowl of soup looking like the perfect cure for the false-start spring blues that settled over me since the temperature dropped. We both take a moment to meditate on what Stuart just said, tasting our food pensively. As the meal carries on, Stuart takes time to talk about the cast and crew, and throughout our late-lunch he is sure to refer to everyone by name, thus I will pay them the same respect. The cast is comprised of five performers: Charles Bender, Lally Cadeau, Jean Marchand, Johanna Nutter, and Amanda Silvera. Stuart says of the cast, “This is a terrifically talented group of individuals with decades of cumulative experience. They come into work prepared every day ready to fly into the moment and react to what’s happening.”
The directing team decided to keep the acting grounded and realistic to contrast more stylized design choices. He credits Set & Costume Designer Eo Sharp by name, as usual, and of the design says, “We’re incorporating some really interesting video projections at different times, and audio-visual [elements] to augment or enhance what’s going on in Edouard’s mind as his memory slowly goes.”
The gracious way Stuart speaks about the cast and crew has the effect of reiterating the teamwork that goes into any theatre production and is contrary to the stereotypical image of the director in his chair, barking orders through a bullhorn to obedient actor-supplicants about where to stand and how to feel about it. This is obviously not the atmosphere at the rehearsal hall at the Centaur the way Stuart describes it.
“It really is a symbiotic relationship and you have to remember that these actors come in with years of experience and years of theatre knowledge,” he says. Stuart believes that a good director welcomes feedback from actors. “It comes from a valid positive place of wanting the show to be the best that it can be. And the director makes the decision that he or she needs to make, but having this level of talent in the room just makes the show, on all aspects, so much better because they are first and foremost students of the theatre.”
I let Stuart eat his last piece of sushi before asking for last comments. My half-eaten bowl of ramen sits congealing before me. My physical body has defeated my spiritual self. Despite my soul being more than ready for nourishment, my stomach protests at being fed two lunches one right after the other, one with a considerably higher MSG content no doubt, no matter what my flighty “soul” has to say about it.
Once Stuart is finished chewing, I ask him for his final thoughts before we conclude the interview. He contemplates his final statement and when he speaks he considers his words carefully. This is what directors do after all, they measure speech in time. “It’s fun to make audiences laugh when you get to do that, but to hopefully have a real impact on their lives, which I think this play will do, is a very special thing and its one of the reasons you get into the arts. If you can remind people that they’re not alone in what they’re going through it can hopefully give them needed perspective to deal with their own demons and struggles.” He stops, and adds as a final thought, “And that’s a good day’s work as an artist.”
You Will Remember Me runs from March 7th– April 2nd at Centaur Theatre. Tickets and more information are available here.