Mnemonic Chaotic But Captivating

In the first few minutes of “Mnemonic,” the audience is asked by a psychology professor turned stand-up comedian (Rory N. Kulz ’08-’09) to put on sleeping masks and go back to a time most people probably have some trouble remembering: our very first day of school. He asks the audience to remember our parents leading us by the hand, to imagine their parents behind them and their parents behind them, and so on. He asks us to trace our entire lineage through the veins of a fallen tree leaf, which was given out before the play commenced. The point of this simple exercise of the mind, and of imagination, is to convey how every audience member watching “Mnemonic” comes from a common ancestor. Remembering such a bizarre scenario will definitely not require any sort of mnemonic device.

The same could be said for the rest of the play, which will run at the New College Theatre through Nov. 2. “Mnemonic,” directed by Catherine C. Videt ’09 and produced by Warakorn “Pete” Kulalert ’10, is a contemporary explosion of memory, loss, and uncertainty with its fair share of partial nudity and strobe lights. And although it has an uber-complicated storyline that is often difficult to follow, the interpretive ambiguity it causes is not only a source of confusion, but also one of enjoyment.

“Mnemonic” weaves together several related storylines in which all characters are desperately searching for something, using female players for male characters to emphasize the irrelevance of gender for human experience. In the first, a man called Virgil—wonderfully played by Madeleine A. Bennett ’11—tries to locate her lost lover. In the second, Virgil’s lost lover, Alice (Catrin M. Lloyd-Bollard ’08) searches throughout Europe for her father, whom she previously thought had died before her birth. In the third and final storyline, a group of scientists from around the world try to piece together the life of a 5,200-year-old body discovered 120 meters from the Italian border.

Videt, with her colorful and creative directing, enlivens the NCT. The stage, decorated with a plethora of maps from all over the world and suitcases of all shapes and sizes to emphasize the themes of travel and human interconnection, was constantly flooded with action. So as to imitate real life, there were normally several actors on stage who were doing something completely unrelated to the central action of the moment. Although this made the plot difficult to follow, it added greatly to the energy and swift action of the play. Videt beautifully utilized an enormous white curtain throughout the play, imitating things as various as the ice sheets where the Neolithic body was found or Virgil and Alice’s ruffled bed covers.

A convention of scientists from all around the world, attempting to piece together the life of the Neolithic man, provided one of the play’s most entertaining scenes. The actors comically portrayed these foreign scientists, all of whom had different interpretations on who the Neolithic man was and disparaging theories about what he was doing before he died. Hilarity ensued when the scientists, with very thick and believable accents, began arguing their own theories and fighting for the microphone. Sarah T. Christian ’11 deserves special praise for her convincing portrayal of the French scientist.

Lloyd-Bollard, as Alice, gave the strongest and most natural performance of the night. She seemed surprisingly comfortable on stage partially nude, and she successfully conveyed the internal battle she faced between piecing together her past and moving on into the future.

Still, the plot was extremely confusing at times, and events only became comprehensible halfway through the play. But this should not deter anyone from watching “Mnemonic”; the ensuing confusion is only part of the experience. A second viewing might be required to fully understand the scope of the play, but that only means experiencing the wonderful intensity all over again.

—Staff writer Andres A. Arguello can be reached at arguello@fas.harvard.edu.