When I was returning to my seat after intermission, I had virtually no interest in what was going to happen next. That’s not a good sign.
In Forget About Tomorrow, playwright Jill Daum tells the story of Jane, whose husband Tom develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. The main problem with the play is that most of Act 1 is redundant. Virtually everyone entering the theatre will know that the script is about Alzheimer’s disease, but, for almost its entire length, the first act avoids the inevitable central drama.
Instead of getting down to business, Daum creates a kind of romantic-comedy distraction. Jane flirts with Wayne, a smart, handsome, widower who comes into the baby store where she works to buy gifts for his new granddaughter. And Daum adds considerable comic spin in the form of Lori, Jane’s narcissistic boss.
The comedy works—more about that in a moment—and I can appreciate the importance of humour in a play about Alzheimer’s. But there’s a price to be paid for giving this lightweight material so much stage time. As I’ve mentioned the dramatic engine fails to turn over. And the play’s central relationship, Jane’s marriage to Tom, almost disappears.
The baseline of affection between the couple is never established. We see Tom singing a love song to Jane off the top, but that’s on video, which is alienating. A song is not a scene. And, because that song is all we get, we never develop much sense of what Jane and Tom stand to lose.
After that, these two just keep hitting the same repetitive notes—he’s worried and confused, and she’s annoyed because she thinks he’s being neurotic. The play doesn’t find its focus until Tom’s diagnosis, which comes in the closing moments of the act.
Fortunately, Act 2 improves. In fact, there are some subtle scenes in the second half. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but Wayne, Jane’s would-be boyfriend, saves her from some of her sloppier impulses, which is a nice twist. And the scene in which Lori, the hard-bitten boss, becomes the unlikely source of sound emotional advice is also nicely complicated.
Tom remains underdeveloped as a character, however. And it’s worth pointing out Jane’s passivity: she doesn’t find her own resolution; others herd her towards it. Dramatically speaking, that makes her a limp noodle.
But I did say the play’s comedy works. Jane’s stylin’ employer Lori has some great lines, including, “I know I’m being a cunt. I’ll get more perspective when my hair’s cut.” When Jane hesitates before revealing an indiscretion, Lori assures her: “I’m more likely to judge you for your outfits than your actions.” And Lori says she’s working on her Fuck It List: “I’m going to cross off all the things I never want to do again before I die.” In a satisfying device, Lori has a romantic dilemma that provides comic counterpoint to Jane’s.
Colleen Wheeler brings hilarious swagger to Lori and, costumed by Pam Johnson in stiletto boots, dramatically drapey tops, and sculptural jewelry, she looks like an ALF (Amazons I’d like to fuck.) Hrothgar Matthews finds all of the openhearted charm in Wayne. In many ways, Jane is a thankless part—she cries and complains a lot—but Jennifer Lines fills all of that honestly. Craig Erikson delivers the performance of the evening as Tom, though. Using the scant scaffolding of the role as written, he builds a characterization of depth and solidity, blinking his eyes in an emblematic gesture, as if trying to bring his life back into focus.
Pam Johnson also created the handsome set of whitewashed wood that, with its revolve, manages to show us both Jane’s home and her workplace from several angles.
Although they are undermined by the overall structure, individual scenes and written characterizations in Forget About Tomorrow are excellent. So the very good news is that, with a better framework in a future project, Daum’s real—and considerable—writing talent could flourish.
FORGET ABOUT TOMORROW by Jill Daum. Directed by Michael Shamata. Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre Company and Belfry Theatre. On the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Thursday, March 8. Continues until March 25.
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