It is no small task to tackle grief, guilt, and family dysfunctionality in the space of an hour onstage, but that is what “Tell Me Things I Wouldn’t Mind Forgetting” sets out to do, with varying levels of success. In the cosy setting of the Cellar Theatre, the play just manages a satisfying ending.
The storyline circles around the lives of each of the four characters: siblings Ben, Claire, Caden; and their mother Jen. On the first anniversary of their father’s death, the characters are poised to deal with lingering effects of loss and guilt. The family has broken apart since the tragedy, and the writers structure their disconnect through monologues, conversations and a handful of interpersonal references.
Disconnection is at the centre of the narrative. Each character has been written by a different writer, to grant them individuality. It’s a clever experiment, but it doesn’t translate particularly well for narrative cohesion and the audience’s investment in the characters. It was difficult to be fully taken in by the play and suspend one’s disbelief. The characters would shout out their angst to an audience that couldn’t quite believe them, and many moments that should have been deeply impactful fell short of their purpose.
That being said, certain aspects of the writing, acting and directing came together very well. In particular, the dynamic between the siblings when they finally unite managed to illustrate the love and familiarity that keeps this family in its orbit. An explosive argument between Ben and Jen was satisfyingly familiar, and drew on the audience’s sympathy and affection for both characters. The original song “Fairest Father” was an emotional highlight, illustrating the strained relationship between Caden and his dad, evenly mixing Caden’s struggle between vulnerability and bitterness.
I admire the production’s creative intent of experimenting with the well-trodden genre of Australian family drama. “Tell Me Things” addresses the difficult subjects of what happens to teen angst when kids are forced to grow up too quickly, and how individuals bear responsibility for grieving families — this is heavy stuff to work with. The production tied these dilemmas together as the play ended, with the suggestion that this broken family was healing.
“Tell Me Things I Wouldn’t Mind Forgetting” is showing at the Cellar Theatre until the 15th of May