2023 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Dementia Man, An Existential Journey’ by Samuel A. Simon (3 1⁄2 stars)

Longtime public interest lawyer's autobiographical one-man show tackles questions of memory and mortality head-on.

Sometimes Samuel A. Simon has no idea where he is, what he is supposed to do, and where he’s going. “My body and my mind can be in two places at the same time — in between,” he says in his new autobiographical monodrama running at Capital Fringe. But his meandering musings are not ontological questions about how he experiences being and living, what philosophers call phenomenology. Rather, they are deeply relevant questions about his own life and death.

Playwright Simon, 79, a former public interest lawyer and one-time Ralph Nader “Raider,” journeys into Sartre territory (the French philosopher who espoused that existence precedes essence) in describing the loss of his memories. In doctor-speak, Simon is “mildly cognitively impaired,” or in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and what does existence mean without memory? Dementia Man, the novice playwright’s one-hour rumination, examines his experiences as he loses his memory, ability to reason, and ultimately, life as he’s known it.

Simon wrote and performed his second full-length work as he experienced episodes of dementia, confusion, and disassociation. His previous play, The Actual Dance, which premiered in 2014, detailed his feelings and experiences as his wife, Susan, was treated for breast cancer.

Wearing navy-blue slacks and a collared long-sleeve shirt, Simon looks office-ready on the stage set with just two chairs and a small side table. Stage manager Marsha Abromovich announced that the performer will utilize accommodations: carrying the script in hand while she served as his cognitive navigator — although on opening night, her coaching was not needed.

The monologue carries viewers back to Simon’s El Paso childhood, marriage to his college sweetheart, his post–law school exploits as a successful legal advocate for humanistic causes, and his wandering, yet cogent thoughts on losing his memory and his self.

It took some time for his performance to warm up, until Simon naturally transformed when talking about his children, grandchildren, and wife, Susan. On stage, he is bald and bold in eschewing poignant, tear-jerking moments in favor of rationalizing options for living his best life. In doing so his Dementia Man, directed by Thadd McQuade with dramaturgy by Gabrielle Maisels, deals plainly with the terror and confusion of our worst existential fear: “vanishing.”


Running Time: 65 minutes.

Dementia Man, An Existential Journey plays July 15 at 1:00 pm, July 22 at 1:00 pm, and July 23 at 4:45 pm at DCJCC – Cafritz Hall. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

Genre: Drama
Director: Thadd McQuade
Playwright: Samuel A. Simon
Performer: Samuel A. Simon
Age appropriateness: Appropriate for adults only
Profanity: Yes

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.

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Lisa Traiger
An arts journalist since 1985, Lisa Traiger writes frequently on the performing arts for Washington Jewish Week and other local and national publications, including Dance, Pointe, and Dance Teacher. She also edits From the Green Room, Dance/USA’s online eJournal. She was a freelance dance critic for The Washington Post Style section from 1997-2006. As arts correspondent, her pieces on the cultural and performing arts appear regularly in the Washington Jewish Week where she has reported on Jewish drum circles, Israeli folk dance, Holocaust survivors, Jewish Freedom Riders, and Jewish American artists from Ben Shahn to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim to Y Love, Anna Sokolow to Liz Lerman. Her dance writing can also be read on DanceViewTimes.com. She has written for Washingtonian, The Forward, Moment, Dance Studio Life, Stagebill, Sondheim Review, Asian Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Atlanta Jewish Times, and Washington Review. She received two Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Arts Criticism from the American Jewish Press Association; a 2009 shared Rockower for reporting; and in 2007 first-place recognition from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. In 2003, Traiger was a New York Times Fellow in the Institute for Dance Criticism at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. She holds an M.F.A. in choreography from the University of Maryland, College Park, and has taught dance appreciation at the University of Maryland and Montgomery College, Rockville, Md. Traiger served on the Dance Critics Association Board of Directors from 1991-93, returned to the board in 2005, and served as co-president in 2006-2007. She was a member of the advisory board of the Dance Notation Bureau from 2008-2009.


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