Jan 28, 2015–As I recently watched a family member travel the dim journey through dementia, I was intensely curious how the disease appeared from inside the mind of the victim. Fredericksburg Middle School theater teacher David Remschel had the same question, and eloquently answers it in his original play “No Room For A Picture On The Blank Wall” showing in upcoming weekends.
The McMurry State and Fredericksburg High School graduate brings his view of Alzheimer’s disease to life on stage in a creative, touching, thoughtful, and sometimes funny way.
Remschel’s interest in the condition stems from his own personal experience. As part of a Servant Leadership class at McMurray, he chose to work at an Alzheimer’s clinic.
“That provided so much insight,” Remschel said. “I went every day and was able to talk with the patients. That gave me a lot of inspiration, and as I was taking an advanced playwriting class at the same time, it all came together.”
Remschel’s work has been validated by two important audiences: critics and audiences.
His play won the Texas Education Theater Association Playfest Award–his second win in two years. More importantly, he earned accolades from the audience.
“People who have been affected by Alzheimer’s in their families have told me they were touched by it, and could relate to the character in the play. A lot of people have been telling me about their personal experiences with it.”
For those, the performance is almost too real. One man whose wife had Alzheimer’s had to leave at intermission.
Writing is Remschel’s passion. He confesses he has always been in love with stories. If he couldn’t write them down, he drew them. If he couldn’t draw them, he walked around telling stories.
It wasn’t until his freshman year at Fredericksburg High School that he took his first theater class. Suddenly he discovered yet another way to tell his stories.
“Writing plays is a different kind of writing,” he explained. “In novellas you are able to express so much more mentally. In plays and film, you are not able to do that. It is more of a visual art than a reading art. You can’t see what the characters are thinking.” He took that challenge as an opportunity. “I like the idea of people being able to see what I’ve written. That adds another level. It is also pretty complicated. You can’t dwell too much on thought; you have to say what they are thinking.”
This play is unlike any the young playwright has done before.
“This is the most different thing I have written. I don’t think it is compelling to just have someone get Alzheimer’s, it progresses, then everything is lost. That has been done before. I wanted to add something else to it.”
What he added was way for the audience to see through the eyes of the patient. He came up with the clever device of having two typically New York construction workers gradually disassemble the set, symbolically taking away markers of his life. The men serve as comic relief even as they symbolize the disease.
“They are the Alzheimer’s. They are taking away his life, basically.”
This show is only the second public performance. The premier was at McMurry State and featured an all-student cast. For the Fredericksburg production, the seven-member cast will be more “age appropriate.”
“That adds a whole different level to it,” Remschel said.
Bob Straus (Remschel’s former FHS drama teacher) portrays the lead character, who suffers with Alzheimers. Joining him on stage are Charlotte Freeborn, J.D. Cole, Matt Ward, Pierre Minjauw, and Randi Jackson (current FHS drama teacher). Remschel appears as one of the construction workers.
With such powerful and personal material, this obviously is not a frolicking musical. But the gravity of the content should not frighten people off.
“I don’t want people to go away thinking this is a depressing play,” Remschel said. “I hope they leave thinking about the good memories they have had with people who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s.”