Redemption in the loop of time: How I Met My Mother, a Fringe review

Jon Paterson, How I Met My Mother. Photo supplied.

How I Met My Mother (Stage 16, Sue Paterson Theatre at Campus Saint-Jean

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight,ca

As we know from the moment in history we’ve touched down in, something’s gone haywire with time. It stands perfectly still, awaiting the Restart button. Or it loops backwards, takes its own timeout, then lurches forward. Or else it’s weirdly compressed into the present moment.

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All of these things happen in Jon Paterson’s How I Met My Mother. It’s the first solo show the 25-year Fringe veteran has ever written by himself, and it’s a show for two. In it he tells the most personal of stories: how his unruly teenager self, desperate to be bad-ass cool, cruelly tests the remarkable patience of his long-suffering mom. And how that self-centred kid, who’d get so mad he punched holes in the wall when the Winnipeg Jets lost to the Oilers, eventually became his mother’s care-giver for a time when she was stricken with early onset dementia. 

It’s a story of redemption. And the charismatic Paterson, who’s always had a dangerous energy onstage, doesn’t spare his younger self, as he recounts, in vivid detail, his transgressions. Lies, food fights, joy rides, and worse…. In the production directed by Vanessa Quesnelle, he re-creates a party that turned out to be a nightmare of destruction. 

In a counterpoint of scenes, these tales of a terrible youth alternate with scenes in which Paterson struggles to be a care-giver and make amends. By that time he’s an actor on the Fringe circuit — “trying to make a living as an independent theatre artist, don’t laugh” — and the only person in his family who doesn’t have A Real Job. One of the touching things about How I Met My Mother is seeing how an  artist applies his creative wits to making the world entertaining for someone whose abilities to understand and react are on the decline. Little things, like a trip to Starbucks, grow as his mom’s frontiers shrink. And there’s real valiance in Paterson’s effort to improvise small-scale excitement in an ever-flatter landscape of a life. 

Which returns us to the subject of time. As it slows down to an eternal present moment for Paterson’s mother, whose memory bank, emptied of short-term content, flips directly into the past long-gone, his own memories unspool. They return again and again to family Christmases, and to the Fringe. 

Paterson’s mom, his biggest supporter, stage managed, promoted, helped with his productions across the country. And now, it transpires, we’re in a Paterson show at the Fringe, sitting in the Sue Paterson Theatre at the College Saint-Jean, named after her. It’s a conjuring turn, Paterson’s homage to the mom he regained only to lose her again in the wordless mists of dementia. She seems to have returned to the theatre; he thinks so.

You won’t get a warmer welcome into a theatre anywhere at the Fringe.   

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