How I Met My Mother
Created by Jonathon Paterson
Produced by RibbitRePublic Theatre (Vancouver)
60m | 14+ | Drama
Content warnings: mental health, mature language
Memories lost and unlocked
Despite garnering awards and plaudits throughout his 25-year Fringe career, this is Jonathon Paterson’s first solo-authored production and, based on this powerful debut, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Paterson captures the experience of caring for his dementia-afflicted mother in a powerhouse performance that juxtaposes biting insights on the heartbreaking loss of competency and self against riotous memories of teenage angst, failures, and chaos while leading his audience towards the growth and becoming that accompanies a commitment to the ties that bind and define relationships.
An oddball musical melange of N.W.A, ABBA, Beastie Boys and Neil Diamond greeted the audience filing in. Paterson blended some of his mother’s favourite tracks with those from his ’80s youth to create a playlist that serves both as a touchpoint to later references on the importance of music in dementia care and, more importantly, as a subtle yet irrefutable nod to the care taken in producing this work.
Paterson sets up pendulum pacing, swinging between 8th grade as his “badass” self (aka a jerk to his mom) and a present-day revisiting of his mom’s diagnosis and decline that thrust him into the role of live-in caregiver. The beats of both timelines are equally captivating and immersive, and bring a sense of the unstoppable passage of time, the power of memories, and the volatile importance of others in the definition of self.
Repetitive phrasing and paraphrasing crisply convey the dementia experience without overstatement, allowing the production to flow. There is much to unpack in Susan’s summation of her own condition: “I wonder if I’ve gone past what I can do,” she says. And as simple tasks become beyond her, Paterson reflects that “only 10 years ago” she travelled Europe, “only 10 years ago” she built a shed, etc. It’s a masterclass in succinct emotional delivery.
Despite the heaviness of the theme, the tempo and anecdotes keep the production light and moving. Whether joyriding, dodging the “benign dangers” of pinecones, experiencing the joyful exuberance of an epic food fight or a failed attempt to get his Fringe-managing mom to share a joint, Paterson keeps his audience entertained and charmed throughout.
The conclusion may have left me in floods of happy-sad tears but I’ll take that. This is a best-of-fest contender and not to be missed.
How I Met My Mother by Jonathon Paterson is playing at Studio 1201 (60 Waller Street) until June 26, 2022. Tickets are $12 online (plus a $2 processing fee) and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at https://apt613.ca/category/festival/fringe/.