Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Theater / October 12, 2011

The art of remembrance (in three acts)

Amnesia has always been a popular theme in pop culture, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that it has also proven great interest to playwrights here at Knox.

Three separate students recently wrote plays with amnesia and forgetting as a central theme, each having no knowledge that the other two were doing something similar until well into the writing process. Chance brought these three into contact with each other and started a process that culminated in “Mnemosyne,” a collection of all three performed last weekend in the Studio Theatre.

The first play was “Amnesia,” a short, light comedy, written by sophomore Allison Diamond and directed by sophomore Miranda Loeber, that featured two people laying in hospital beds attempting to piece together who they were and how they got there. It was the shortest of the plays, never even revealing the names of any of the characters. Diamond says this was because she didn’t envision “Amnesia” as a play so much as a theatrical comedy sketch; one that didn’t require extensive characterization.

Initially, it was written for Professor Neil Blackadder’s Beginning Playwriting class, but was later developed further through Playwright’s Workshop after her classmates’ encouragement.

The evening took a more serious tone with the second play, “Mnemonic,” written by Loeber and directed by sophomore Jordyn Stewart, depicting a futuristic world where humans have chips implanted in their brains so that traumatic memories can be wiped out.

The play featured only two actresses. The chip in one of the characters’ brains malfunctions, leaving her to confront a world in which she is the only one who knows what it is like to remember everything. The play then explores the struggles of living in a world where no one could possibly understand your suffering because they cannot remember ever having suffered. According to Loeber, “Mnemonic” was initially inspired by a Kurt Vonnegut short story that also features chips being implanted into people’s brains for the purpose of erasing memories.

The third, “Leaks”, written by junior Autumn McGarr, also took place in the future, but one in which a poisonous gas is released into the atmosphere, causing all those who go outside to forget who they are. “Leaks” had the virtue of balancing the comedy of “Amnesia” with the deeper questions provoked by “Mnemonic.” Though the mood is generally light, dealing with the main character’s interactions with a man who named himself after a Denny’s meal, a petulant British man and a woman who argues with trees, it always remains on the mind of the audience member that the protagonist has only a short amount of time before she too is overcome with oblivion from the unseen poison gas, adding a dark undertone to even the most comic of scenes.

“Mnemosyne” owes a great deal to the efforts of Loeber, who wrote one play, directed the other two, and organized the entire event. It was at last spring’s Playwright’s Workshop, an opportunity for Knox students to present works in progress that can then be critiqued and improved by others, that the event really first began to take shape. In the workshop, Loeber became aware that all three plays had a common theme that might benefit from being grouped together.

Attendees seemed to think that the actors, writers, directors, and crew did an excellent job in putting everything together, though many of them singled out the acting specifically.

“The actors had a firm grasp on memory and what losing it means,” was the verdict of freshman Hadley Gephart.

Stewart, director of “Menemonic,” took a broader view of the night and said what she enjoyed most was that, “it makes you think and makes you scared a bit, but in a contemplative way.”

The general conclusion seems to be that this was a night that those who attended will not soon forget — barring, of course, poisonous atmospheric gas or government mind control.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

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