Red Tape Theatre at DCASE Storefront Theater. By Complicite. Directed by Brandon Ray. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
The title of this 1999 piece devised by the British theater company Complicite suggests it’s about memory. But really the fragmentary, dreamlike Mnemonic is concerned with origins—less the whats than the whys.
A young man named Virgil (Chris Carr) is locked in a state of limbo after his girlfriend, Alice (Meghan Reardon), left with no explanation eight months earlier. He spends sleepless nights wondering where she’s gone and why she won’t return his calls. Alice, we learn, found out at her mother’s funeral that her father actually wasn’t dead, as her mother had told her all her life, and she impulsively set out across Europe hoping to track him down.
Interwoven with the fictional couple’s tales is a recounting of the real-life 1991 discovery of a frozen, remarkably preserved Bronze Age corpse on the Austrian-Italian border. The efforts of Austrian archaeologist Konrad Spindler (Robert Oakes), who was a leader in the study of the mummy that came to be known as Ötzi the Iceman, to determine the circumstances of the prehistoric man’s death is presented in direct but ill-fitting parallel to the young lovers.
In director Brandon Ray’s production, the true story is more compelling than the fictional. Despite sympathetic performances by Carr and Reardon, their characters remain underwritten ciphers, Virgil particularly so. Ray creates the occasional compelling visual, often involving interactions between live actors and Liviu Pasare impressive projection designs.
But Emily Guthrie’s awkward, extra-wide scenic design, attempting to use as much Storefront Theater space as possible, instead makes the playing space too diffuse; sitting on the center aisle will have you turning your head back and forth like you’re at a tennis match. And Ray’s employment of the nine ensemble players, especially in moments of abstract choreography, can feel like self-consciously, near satirically “experimental.” And at two intermissionless hours, the repetitive script is more meandering than memorable.