Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Are there limits to love?
Exercice de l’oublie (Lesson in Forgetting) explores what happens to the love of a husband and wife when they can no longer share a life. The play by Emma Haché was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award in 2017, and is being presented in French by Théâtre français de Toronto (TfT), directed by Artistic Director Joёl Beddows, and starring Claire Normand and Bruno Verdoni. The plot centres on a wife’s daily hospital visits to spend time with her husband who has lost his memory in a serious car accident. The only thing he can recall is his deep love for his wife. But in this room, where time seems to stand still, she begins to doubt her ability to support his journey back to health – a journey which she comes to realize is an impossibility.
Verdoni found himself drawn to the play as a “poetic drama” with many layers and a language that is consistent with its style. After his first read, he wasn’t exactly sure what the story involved or where it was going, but found himself “very touched nonetheless”: “The play got to me without fully understanding it. That is usually a good sign,” he smiles.
He describes the play as set predominantly around the wife. She exists only for her husband, much as he exists only for her. Verdoni’s character of the husband is portrayed in a three-fold way: “We see him as he is with his wife, we see him expressing his inner turmoil, and there is a moment where we see him as he used to be. Audiences will find a rich language expressing the intimacy of two people who love each other very much, yet have to live with an ever-growing chasm, which we see too much of in real life.” To root him in authenticity, Verdoni blended elements of real life and imagination, in much the same way that his character does. For him, the greatest challenge has also been the most exciting part of this role: being focussed and committed to one thing, not letting the mind wander, and remaining in the moment at all times.
The process of putting the play together with the director, choreographer, composer, lighting, production designer, and costume designer has been a “blast”, with everyone on the same page of “really wanting to lift the words and powerfully evoke the story of those two characters, what they are going through and where this new phase of their lives is taking them”. Thinking ahead to the run, Verdoni hopes that audience members will “reflect on living a full life before unforeseen events happen, and how to navigate and stay sound of mind when loved ones start…. disappearing in front of our very eyes”.
And what of our original question: are there limits to love? A smiling Verdoni offers only that Exercice de l’oublie (Lesson in Forgetting) will challenge us to consider whether “our conception or perception of it is making us and others better . . . or is LOVE more of a one-way street?”
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What: Exercice de l’oublie (Lesson in Forgetting) by Emma Haché | Produced by Compagnie le Fils du Grand Réseau | Stage Management: Ghislain Basque | Set and Prop Design: Luc Rondeau | Music and Sound Environment: Jean-François Mallet | Lighting: Michael Brunet | Costumes: Melanie McNeill | Movement Coach: Marie-Josée Chartier | Director: Joёl Beddows
Cast: Claire Normand and Bruno Verdoni
When: February 5 – 9, 2020
Where: Berkeley Street Theatre – Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: theatrefrancais.com
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2020