Theatre review: How Has My Love Affected You? is equal parts love, guilt and therapy session

Love and guilt can be powerful motivators.  In Marcus Youssef’s new play How Has My Love Affected You? both are very much evident on stage during this very personal exploration of a son’s relationship with his mother.

Surround by dozens of boxes piled high behind him and strewn across the stage floor, Youssef takes us on an auto-biographical journey through his life and its often times dysfunctional relationship with his mother.  Using photographs and a copious amount of writing that his mother created over her lifetime, Youssef paints a sometimes excruciatingly personal story of the woman that gave him life and the often rocky bond that existed between them.

Youssef is accompanied by his son Zak on stage performing Veda Hille’s original music on electric piano (plus one of his own creation), with lyrics based on some of the journal entries written by his grandmother.  With the distinct Hille sound, the songs bridge transitions, often times repeating the stories already told by Youssef.  On a couple of occasions, father and son interact as if the audience has suddenly disappeared; it was in these too rare moments that Youssef found the heart of his play.

Marcus Youssef in a scene from How Has My Love Affected You? Photo by David Cooper.
Marcus Youssef in a scene from the Arts Club production of How Has My Love Affected You? Photo by David Cooper.

The central theme here is laid out quite literally in the play’s title, but while the answer to that question is explored directly on a couple of occasions, Youssef spends the bulk of his time here on the everyday.  And while many of the stories he told were engagingly funny, sad and quirky moments in his family’s history, it at times felt that a small tweak to the title, replacing the word “love” for “life”, would be more accurate.

Late into the show Youssef reveals that his mother has been suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s for quite some time and he proceeds to characterize How Has My Love Affected You? as a play about Alzheimer’s.  In reality it feels more like a 90 minute extension of the therapy sessions that Youssef admits are still very much part of his life; no doubt audience members dealing with Alzheimer’s in their own lives will benefit from participating in this particular session.

3 Out of 5 StarsHow Has My Life Affected You?

By Marcus Youssef.  Directed by Rachel Ville.  On stage at the Arts Club Revue Stage on Granville Island through March 23, 2013.  Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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