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.
Director: Thadd McQuade
Playwright: Samuel A. Simon
Performer: Samuel A. Simon
Age appropriateness: Appropriate for adults only
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.