I Remember You is a play about embracing nostalgia in doses. It is easy to get caught up in memories of a glorious past until all that is left are recently polished trophies and a contact list made up of people you don't know anymore. Deep in that sense of ennui is where we meet our cast of characters.
Austin "Buddy" Bedford (gracefully played by Tom Atkinson) is an aging lounge pianist and singer who, based on the intensity and passion of a 10-week-long love affair 25 years earlier, has been stuck in a holding pattern ever since. Once that relationship ended, he gave up on settling down with that perfect someone and instead keeps his head down, content to think about what might have been.
In walks Tracy Wheaton, a gorgeous and powerful businesswoman 20 years his junior. Buddy is drawn to her instantly, because something about her face reminds him of a happier time. After a whirlwind romance, the pair get engaged. All that is left to do is for Buddy to meet his would-be mother-in-law for a quick hello. But of course, since this is theater (and theater at its best), Tracy's mother is Buddy's long-ago love affair, Prunella, the woman who got away.
A less incisive play would have this twist be the setup for madcap hijinks, where slapstick shenanigans ensue, but playwright Bernard Slade (creator of The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family) is much more interested in the toll such a revelation would have on the characters. While the play is fleet-footed and packed with witty banter, there is a tone of melancholy to the proceedings that give the piece real weight.
Director Brad Thompson focuses on the inner life of these characters enough, so that the humor comes from a place of truth instead of feeling manipulative. "It's important the focus is always on the thoughts behind the words, the actions coming from a realistic place for the actors and that they are true to their relationships with their characters," said Thompson. This style of direction creates such an organic connection between the characters that it leaves the audience feeling almost voyeuristic at times.
While I was only able to see a few scenes from the production (at preview performances), it seems almost ready for an audience, which is impressive: Two weeks before opening, the actress playing Tracy quit, leaving Thompson and the rest of the cast in quite a bind. Stepping in at the last moment is Carly Sullivan (wonderful in last year's Company), who has such incredible chemistry with the excellent Alyce Pearce, playing her mother, that it seems like it might be a good problem to have had.
I Remember You, while being a romance, a comedy and a drama, is at heart a cautionary tale. And while the sticky webs of nostalgia are the centerpiece, there is also an undercurrent of wariness about dreams coming true that gives the entire production a bittersweet glow. This show reminds viewers that if sometimes the pill chokes you, it can also be very easy going down.
I Remember You
April 25-May 10
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.
Tickets $12-$19 at Cascadestheatrical.org