FRINGE REVIEW: Forget Me Not a disturbing masterpiece

Edmonton GigCity Fringe Rob Gee Forget Me NotSometimes humour can help the mind grasp a disturbing topic. “Forget Me Not” (Venue 10) is an intelligent and gutsy comedy by Rob Gee that underneath the superficial comic presentation takes a subversive detour into the dark side of institutionalized care, asking the audience to consider if patients in such facilities are receiving quality care at all.

The UK poet, playwright and actor has created a murder mystery takes a stark look at what happens when you combine family members mourning their loved ones passing – either literally or into a degenerative mental state – with disaffected and demoralized health care staff in a ward full of behaviorally challenged elderly Alzheimer’s patients … some of whom just may have killed a bunch of people and promptly forgotten about it.

Three people – two patients and one staff member – end up dead over the course of this play. Some people care, some pretend to care, and some don’t care at all. A former police inspector searches for answers around the death of his wife and ends up discovering that not a whole lot of “care” may have been going on. Management and police seem to think that the woman’s death is not worth investigating, are more intent on finding the staff member’s killers, because, well, she’s important. The story is a ball of yarn that unravels in unexpected ways, revealing surprising depth from well-defined characters that initially seem one way but turn out to be completely different people.

Gee’s skill as a poet shows in clever wordplay throughout the insightful script. He manages to walk a sensible balance between Python-esque wit and an evident respect for his subject matter. The majority of the comic relief comes from the cop investigating the murders, a mercilessly metaphor-mixing moron who should have been played by John Cleese. The nursing home staff are mostly portrayed as well-meaning but bungling ne-er-do-wells going through the motions of changing nappies and doling out pills until they can head off to the pub. Gee worked as a psychiatric nurse for 12 years, so maybe there is some truth to this characterization.

Much like any quality work of British comic theater, Forget Me Not leavens emotional subject matter with comic touches, reasoning that this might be the most effective method of engaging minds to consider difficult topics. Gee succeeded on every front in his delivery, from acting to writing to rich thematic content.

When we choose to pay someone else to care for our loved one, whose interest are we serving? Is it better for our loved ones or for us? These are just two of many hard questions posed in a bright, sharp, well executed, highly thoughtful play that deals with difficult subject matter in a respectful and considerate way, without resorting to stereotypes or preaching an agenda, and delivered by a performer who comes off like a stone-cold genius.

And with increasing health care spending, shortage of available health care services, and an ever aging population, the timing couldn’t be better.