In André & Dorine masked actors tell a story of dementia in a brilliantly original way: without dialogue.
There’s something painfully appropriate about using a wordless and facial expression-free medium to depict the decline of a mind. Presented by Kulunka Teatro, a company from the Basque country of Spain, the show uses only body language, simple props, and Yayo Cáceres’ earthy, beautifully performed score to tell the story of an elderly woman’s decline into dementia and its effects on her and on her husband and son.
The hyper-theatrical format enables the telescoping of time. It enables cartoon humor, which leavens the sadness just the right amount.
It also makes symbols deeply resonant – literally so, in the case of Dorine’s cello. The instrument gives us a window into her life even after she has lost the ability to play. On the other side of the plain, homey set, the click-clack of the old-fashioned typewriter on which André pecks out his books speaks volumes (also literally). Even a funny-ugly shirt Dorine tries to foist on their son eventually takes on deeper meaning in a comic callback.
The multitalented cast of three play multiple characters, the three major ones as well as minor ones. They show what heights pantomime can attain. The character changes are so quick, director Iñaki Rikarte’s staging so smooth, you could be excused for thinking you’ve been seeing more than three figures on stage at one time. Clad in different masks and costumes, with altered gaits and attitudes, they transform from old to young, gender to gender.
Amid this legerdemain, the pathos never grows maudlin. But it certainly hits home. Whether or not you’ve experienced a loved one’s dementia, the show touchingly conveys the tragedy of losing one’s self, of continuing to physically live without the context and memories and relationships that have given meaning to one’s existence. Even more acutely it suggests the sorrow of the loved ones who must care, sometimes for years, for a family member who is no longer herself.
Playful circus energy relieves the sadness. Exaggerated movements set flashback scenes in sharp relief, with physical comedy and even a spot of acrobatics. Minor characters carbonate the present-day storyline. Business with props illustrates sentiment and quirks: a torn-up diagnosis retrieved and taped together; a mis-hung coat; a cello bow stirring up motor memory in a mind severed from full awareness.
André & Dorine has already won awards on more than one continent. Now through May 29, it’s New York City’s turn to host this wondrous show. Then it moves to Los Angeles for a short June 9–19 run. Catch José Dault, Garbiñe Insausti, and Edu Cárcamo in this production if you possibly can. They are sure to create magic on whatever stage they tread. Visit the show’s website for schedule and tickets.