Review: Forget Me Not (Luminato)

Luminato presents Canadian Ronnie Burkett’s allegory about love, loss, and longing in Toronto

This year’s Luminato Festival, under the curatorial direction of Naomi Campbell, has collected any number of sharp, new takes on concepts that seem perhaps done – from love to climate change – but even among these Forget Me Not stands out. A new work from Canadian magic-maker Ronnie Burkett, Forget Me Not is an allegory about love, loss, longing and language that spans… well, it spans many distances.

To try to describe the plot of Forget Me Not feels like a fool’s errand, since the plot feels beside the point, secondary to the themes, like an invisible line of marionettist’s microfilament that holds the relevant, moving part; the parts that move us. Movement, in this show, isn’t just in the feelings but also in the body – audience members are firmly instructed on our responsibilities and directed to follow the action, take and use puppets, play records upon command and more. It’s a novel way to see a piece of theatre, more play than play, conceived by Burkett in a way that calls back to that one kid who always had a fully realized and complex game of pretend they wanted to play and would cast and direct it with precision (confession: I might have been that kid). But where many of us peaked during Grade 3 recess, Burkett has made a profession of it.

Forget Me Not follows, roughly, the feelings and movements of She, the elder writer of love letters, through a span of time so long that language is lost and then forbidden and then to write becomes a crime. It’s wild and wooly and full of interjections and digressions, rumination and meditations, barely intelligible yelling and sentences that sink into the well of your soul like a stone and will never be dislodged – for me, that sentence was, “In the light of day, nobody wants Different. They only want it at night, when they pay.” There are plenty of other pearls on the string if that’s not yours, though; other sentences and moments when audience members around me shuddered and sighed like they’d just had love’s first kiss.

I’m well known to like theatre that makes the audience work for their reward, so that’s a factor here. I can and will hang with high-context openings, gorgeous chaos, and other bewilderments to enjoy that snap when the fullness of something unfolds and delights. Some of the audience of Forget Me Not clearly felt adrift – they seemed to enjoy the gorgeous spectacle but a considerable number visibly struggled to make sense of what was happening.

To me, it felt right – like the disjointed and nonlinear nature of a crucial loss, embodied. Forget Me Not requires that we answer and enact micro versions of these timeless questions in the narrative of loss: what am I supposed to be doing right now? How do I manage all these feelings? Where should my attention be? Am I willing to be uncomfortable – even to risk failure – in order to be fully participatory?

Forget Me Not is lively and raucous and tender and also a deeply longing work – longing for connection, for communication, for love, for safety, for ritual, for comfort. I was deep in my feelings all night afterwards, and perhaps the reader can discern that I still am, and gladly. It was a wild ride that I’m glad I took, and commend to you as well.

Details:

  • Forget Me Not is playing from June 9 – 23, 2019 at the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre (27 Front Street E) as part of the Luminato Festival.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
  • Tickets $51 – $111; Student/Youth, Under 30, and Arts Worker discounts available
  • Tickets are available in person at the venue box office, by phone at 416-368-3110 or online.