Art of Memory
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Berg
July 17, 2009
Art of Memory, by Company SoGoNo, starts sneakily, before the doors of the theatre close, with three mischievous girls spying and pestering what appears to be an old swamp witch in her shack. The woman is seen in glimpses through the ragged drapes of her window and lighted cracks in her walls. Like from a lot of spooky sages out in the bog I expected to hear a voice croak, "I know you're out there!" But by the time the witch's shack is pulled open like a book she doesn't appear to be a witch after all but a librarian calling us to story time; macabre nonetheless. It's a story time I happily sat for.
Part of the brilliance of Art of Memory is that it intrigues the audience into its shared storyland in unexpected and thrilling ways. For me it evoked Where the Wild Things Are, The Wizard of Oz, and the Bronte sisters but specifically it uses text and ideas from Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, and others along with fairytales such as "The Red Shoes" and "Bluebeard." The audience doesn't need to know those writers or stories, though, because Art of Memory lets you chase your own imaginary memories while its white rabbits draw you into its alluring looking glass.
Seductively conceived and directed by Tanya Calamoneri, Art of Memory seems to be partly about the giddy mystery of girlhood. Boys aren't mysterious, girls are. And the show taps into the games and stories girls make up and play together, no boys allowed. So sitting in the audience felt like a privileged, clandestine joy for this boy.
Heather Harpham, Cassie Terman, and Tanya Calamoneri are mesmerizing as the three girls, working seamlessly as a unit but living clearly as unique individuals. They could be the Bronte sisters, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily, playing out on their Yorkshire moor, which is referred to several times. Their physical vocabulary is skillful and imaginative with real play happening between them. There's an unpredictability of games but never the feeling of performers out of control.
The game-playing is overseen and indulged by the mysterious mother/librarian played by Lisa Ramirez, who gives a wry and wittily physical performance that's a beautifully balanced counterpoint to the more innocent girls.
Art of Memory is an impressive collaboration of direction, design, and performance. Miguel Frasconi's music, played live by the composer, is moody and mercurial. The costumes by Mioko Mochizuki imply a drapy gothic Victorian twilight between girls and women. Sean Breault's set design gives the impression of finding a house of ideas in a forest where stories are born. Bruce Steinberg's light design is subtly essential and exciting with jaw-dropping effects and moonlit atmosphere. And Matt Tennie's kaleidoscopic video design compliments and doesn't overpower the live performance.
If you haven't seen Art of Memory, see it. If you saw the earlier version of Art of Memory that won a NY Innovative Theatre Award, see it again. The development and design that 3LD's staff and facilities are capable of contributing to this production are worth the price of admission themselves. Art of Memory is an evocative, fun, mesmerizing production and, like memory, encourages one to return.