THEATER | “My Father’s Bookshelf” at the Guthrie: A truly forgettable show about memory loss


If you have to miss one show this season, I highly recommend that it be My Father’s Bookshelf at the Guthrie Theater. A Live Action Set production directed by Galen Treuer and Noah Bremer, the play is two hours of torture with a 15-minute break that passes all too quickly.

The subject is Alzheimer’s, a disease that impacts countless lives: if it never happens to you, odds are it’ll eventually attack and debilitate someone you love, inexorably depriving them of their right mind. Sufferers increasingly take leave of their bearings and can become lost in their own living room. They endure patchy lapses of their faculties. For instance, you can remember how much you love doing a jigsaw puzzle yet completely forget that the person across the table, helping you find the right pieces, is the son or daughter to whom you’ve been devoted all your life. The frightened look in the eyes of someone standing in the middle of the floor trying desperately to remember where they were going and why can tear your heart out. The helplessness with which family and friends are forced to look on is mentally paralyzing, emotionally wrenching. Quite honestly, the disease is enough to make you question just how much God cares about any of us.

my father’s bookshelf, presented through june 28 at the guthrie theater, 818 s. 2nd st., minneapolis. for tickets ($18-$34) and information, see

My Father’s Bookshelf purports to be, according to press materials, “a tragic comedy about our collective response to dementia [following] the fluid reality of an extremely affable, optimistic man as he negotiates life with Alzheimer’s.” It is no such thing. Public-announcement narration and actors speaking across the invisible fourth wall take up easily more than half the show, exercising full-bore accommodation to sheer contrivance. The rest of the time is split between performers going about arbitrary antics and the central character, Bob (Bob Rosen), exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Because the show is so cerebral, Bob’s circumstance is delivered less as someone’s life than as a textbook case study.

The pity is that there is a solid premise: Bob’s mental demise and the havoc it wreaks on both him and his loved ones. The execution, however, is lazy and slick. The production may have been conceived more as performance art than as conventional theater, but—no less than conventionally scripted theater—performance art calls for immediacy and authenticity, rather than didactic artifice. Consider works like the percussion tour de force Stomp! or the freewheeling romp Hip-Hop Theater All Stars. Both utilize the medium with artistic integrity. My Father’s Bookshelf simply occupies space and takes up time.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.

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