The Nature of Forgetting: A Review
The New Victory Theater has a long history of producing quality family entertainment that strives to surpass simple excellence. Their own stated goal is to present complex and sophisticated storytelling combined with breathtakingly beautiful artistry. The Nature of Forgetting is the latest example of their commitment to reaching those ends and it is a phenomenal example of true theatrical magic. The production is seventy-five intermissonless minutes of a life in repetition, struggling to find the memories that complete an existence. While this may sound bleak on the surface it is presented in such a revelatory way that those of us watching can’t help but marvel and be touched by the heart wrenching struggle and celebrate in the found remembrances.
Tom is a fifty-five year old father experiencing early onset dementia. It’s his birthday and family and guests will soon be arriving to help him mark the occasion. His daughter Sophie is there in his room helping him to get dressed. Knowing that it’s important that her father still try to do things on his own, she gives him carefully repeated instructions. She tells him where the suit jacket he’s chosen to wear is hanging in the closet. She reminds him that his tie is in the pocket of that jacket. She reassures him that everything will be fine and that she’ll be waiting for him when he’s done. Sophie then leaves him alone with his task and the memories he’s already struggling to find.
We sit with Tom in his room. The two clothes racks are there and hanging on them are all his clothes. We watch as he attempts to remember again and again where his jacket is amongst the many choices. Each attempt to remember triggers another memory. His life begins to play out in front of us in bits and pieces. Moments are repeated as memories begin to coalesce. His childhood. His young friends. His school teachers. His first love. His wife. On and on, again and again, we willingly go along and every time that Tom finds himself back in his room facing his clothes, we ache for him and we are anxious to return with him as he tries once more to make sense of it all.
There is hardly any dialogue here. What little there is can be heard but is barely audible which adds to the effect that we are sharing this somewhat confusing journey with Tom. What we can hear is the soundtrack of his life played by the exceptional band of live musicians that provide the beats and music that feed his thoughts. What we see is not presented as a conventional play, it is more of an exceedingly well choreographed ballet of people, props, and effects that all come together to show us how Tom sees his past. It’s a concert of moments all being taken apart and refitted until they all unify into the one thread that brings it all into focus. By the time that final moment comes, when all the disjointed puzzle pieces fall into place with one simple action, one can’t help but cheer.
The Nature of Forgetting is flawlessly directed by Guillaume Pigé. He also plays Tom with a commanding charm and grace. The entire production was devised and developed by the members of Theatre Re, a London based theatrical company. This is a very well-rehearsed and impeccably tight ensemble of actors that all make this production tick with elegant precision. Playing a multitude of roles as Tom’s life flashes by actors Louise Wilcox, Eygló Belafonte, Matthew Austin, Alex Judd, Chris Jones, and Keiran Pearson are all to be commended for not only their outstanding performances but for the stamina that they and the entire company exude in bringing all of this to life.
The Nature of Forgetting is family entertainment. It’s designed to not only entertain adults but to hold the attention of children and it does both exceedingly well. At the same time there is also a bigger picture being presented here. Since time immemorial theatre has held a mirror up for us to see who we are as individuals and what we represent as a people. It has always shown us what we are by reminding us where we’ve been. The Nature of Forgetting comes to us at a time when we can barely remember who we are let alone who we were. In the midst of all the confusion its artistic message is resoundingly clear. The Nature of Forgetting serves as a powerful reminder that love remembered is the most poignant memory we have and that with it we can change not only how we see ourselves but we can clearly remember what truly matters to us.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a Drama Desk member. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
The New Victory Theater
209 W 42nd St
New York, NY 10036
$17 - $42