For anyone who has dealt with a terminal illness in their life, there is little doubt Jill Daum’s Forget About Tomorrow will resonate. For those of us lucky enough to have been spared the agony of watching a loved one deal with something like Alzheimer’s though, it offers few surprises.
This observation isn’t meant to diminish Daum’s sometimes touching and often surprisingly funny play, but it does highlight the power of theatre for those who see themselves reflected on stage. By the play’s conclusion last night, there were many in the audience wiping tears from their eyes. For the rest of us, with strategically placed tissues on the ready based solely on the subject matter, they remained untouched.
Forget About Tomorrow comes from a very personal place for Daum. Married to musician John Mann, frontman for Canadian folk-rock band Spirit of the West, it was her husband’s 2014 Alzheimer’s diagnosis which would become the basis for her play.
Mirroring Mann and Daum’s personal life to some extent, Forget About Tomorrow tells the story of Jane, Tom, and their two adult children in the months leading up to and following Tom’s diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
While it is impossible to distinguish fact from fiction without knowing the intimate details of Daum and Mann’s real-life struggles, in Forget About Tomorrow, there is a sense Daum has manifested a few movie-of-the-week mainstays to help tell her story. Or at the very least they have been heightened for dramatic, or in the case of one character, comedic effect. It makes for some rather predictable situations and outcomes.
Despite an inability to surprise, there is some fine acting going on stage in Forget About Tomorrow, with the four adults finding the necessary naturalistic rhythm in Daum’s writing.
Jennifer Lines brings a suitable hesitancy to the role of Jane, with a heartbreaking transition from not understanding Tom’s initial withdrawal to his diagnosis. As husband Tom, Craig Erickson mines depth in the man who will soon forget his mortality.
As Jane’s powerhouse boss, Lori, Colleen Wheeler sidesteps what could easily be caricature, and revels in providing much of the comic relief, resplendent in some eye-catching outfits from Pam Johnson. As Jane’s would-be fling, Hrothgar Mathews brings an initial likeability to his character, although, as written, his eventual transition is a bit jarring.
As Jane and Tom’s two children, Aleita Northey and Aren Okemaysim have the unenviable job of largely playing their characters from offstage, via Facetime calls home. Perhaps it is in the separation, but the two don’t quite reach the same level of realism as their older counterparts.
Tom and Jane use the ever-present laptop to speak with their children, while the audience watches the other end of the conversation projected on Pam Johnson’s monolithic wall. Oddly though, towards the play’s conclusion, director Michael Shamata abruptly changes things to have Jane interacting with her children directly via the oversized projections.
In addition to the Facetime calls, video designer Candelario Andrade provides representations of Tom’s gradually clouded Alzheimer’s mind. A bit on-the-nose, it also feels a bit idiosyncratic inside Daum’s carefully crafted realistic world.
Sound designer James Coomber effectively underscores transitions, and John Mann bookends the evening with two songs written for the show; they would also turn out to be the last two songs Mann would write.
In our recent interview with the playwright, Daum says one of her goals in writing Forget About Tomorrow was to “build a bridge of understanding between people who have never experienced something and those who live it”.
For those of us spared the devastation a terminal illness can wreak, she hasn’t quite succeeded. For those who have lived the realities of terminal illness though (there are no happy endings here), Forget About Tomorrow will no doubt find its audience.
Forget About Tomorrow by Jill Daum. Directed by Michael Shamata. An Arts Club Theatre Company co-production with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. On stage at the BMO Theatre Centre in Vancouver until March 25. Visit https://artsclub.com for tickets and information.