This is a play about memory - how we remember, what we remember and why we remember.
Our lives are full of memory, we live in our memories, we take solace in them as well as strength and yet we are learning more and more from scientists and studies how unreliable our own memories can be. So how can we be sure that what we remember actually happened? How can we be sure that our memory of an event is not simply a memory of a memory of a memory?
“The Man Who Saved Everything” has found his own way to be sure. A man who left college early to move back in with his ailing parents and then never left. Through his mother’s cancer and his father’s own loss of memory (Alzheimer's is surely the cruelest of ends), through to their natural deaths. He quite literally saved and catalogued everything. Movie tickets, newspapers, calendars, letters, everything they wore, every sheet they slept on. Everything saved connecting him to a memory represented. A day, a conversation, an argument, a tender moment, a revelation. His life is so completely caught up in the world he has built for himself using high walls of things most of us would have long since thrown away, that he has become unable to leave. An agoraphobic whose old college friend brings him groceries once a week and whoses family have given up, thinking him mad. A sweet niece who sees the beginnings of her own hoarding habit in her beloved uncle is all that remains.
(L - R) DAVID MINGRINO, JAMES J. COX. Photo by Garry Kluger.
But life on the outside is pressing relentlessly into his carefully curated and hermetically sealed world. The neighborhood is being developed, houses bulldozed and progress foisted. The house has been sold from under him by his unsympathetic brother and, in the final days before his forced eviction, his niece and only friend pleads with him to let go of what binds him lethally to this place.
But how can any of us truly let go of the nest we so carefully create from our past lives?
I know I am surrounded by my long years lost and most beloved parents belongings. Their books, their furniture, their ‘things.’ Not that I live in a junk shop, but I do confess to being inextricably and blissfully connected to all those still living memories, and when I turn the pages of a cookbook and see some note my mother scribbled or a shopping list my father forgot to take to the store, I gasp with the pain of loss and longing for them. But I would rather have that pain and that longing than let them go. Curiously my own parents were far less attached to their own belongings, but then they did hold on to mine after I left in my early twenties. They kept things I had long forgotten, all packed neatly away for my return.
So perhaps this is a most human habit. To keep and to lovingly tend to personal items from those that we have loved and lost. But, at least to the extent that this particular man is concerned, is it healthy? I suppose it depends on what we believe we lose of ourselves when we let go. In “The Man Who Saved Everything” we can conclude that this man, this lonely and lost man fears that if he leaves the place he lives he will lose his mother and father, although they are long gone. To him, they still reside within the walls of the home they lived in for all his life. He sees them, he talks to them and they to him. And although he knows this is preventing him from moving on he has no idea what he would move on to. His niece and friend keep up their efforts to convince him to leave, but in the end, it can only be his choice, his decision that will save him. If he were dragged out by the Sheriff’s as he is repeatedly told will happen, it feels as if his soul might be left behind. He must let go and he must want to.
Theatre West never ceases to amaze me with their bold and fascinating choices of the plays they produce. The set is so impossibly good that we feel as if we have stepped into some ancient Dickensian thrift store of a house. Packed with the meaningless and the meaningful. A place built to insulate a man from the world.
The performances are exceptionally good. Each actor brings a deep understanding, a vivid and empathic connection to the words they speak, and the words are beyond brilliant. Maybe it’s because I could see myself so clearly in the play, maybe because I have lost both of my parents and linger frequently in shelves of books, draws full of linens and the linings of my father's coats that I was so spellbound. I found it to be a celebration of the lives of those we loved and a sweet forgiveness of our human and childlike need to literally hold on to them in whatever way we can.
Theatre West is one of my favorite theatres in LA and I have seen some spectacular works there. “The Man Who Saved Everything” is another beautiful and poignant play wonderfully staged and perfectly acted. Bravo…
It’s not a long run, about a month, so don’t dawdle!!!
Starring Suzanne Collins • James J. Cox • David Mingrino • Ashley Victoria Robinson • Alan Schack • Julia Silverman
Running August 24 – September 23, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.
Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles, 90068