The Dictionary defines Anamnesis as the remembering of things from a supposed previous existence. The play Anamnesis is not as easily defined. Certainly that definition of the term helps one to unlock some of the answers to the questions that we’ll ask ourselves at the end of the evening. Make no mistake, you will have questions and the play is not going to provide you with all of the answers. This isn’t an exercise in frustration, but you are going to need to make your own interpretations of what you’ve seen. This is not a play for everyone, if you like to be spoon fed your entertainment you might find this challenging. But, I would encourage those who have a little bit of curiosity to check it out. What is essential to the shows success is the way in which it uses humor to engage the audience. There are questions that will not be answered, what is with the blood? There are times at which you will feel somewhat lost, but they will be short lived and will add to the pleasure that comes from trying to wrap your head around what you saw and how you interpret it.
For me the key was the opening of the show, which opens on a darkened set draped by a large black tarp. The tarp is moving in a way that reminded me of the surf rolling up on a beach at night. From these waves one by one the cast appears, rolling out at first and slowly raising up to hands and knees then upright on two legs. They say that life on Earth began in the sea, and I read this as the creation of life. From there we follow the cast as they move around finally settling silently into chairs. Then they become aware of one another and slowly begin to embrace. Slowly they begin to talk and now they are a theater troupe rehearsing a play. But we will discover throughout that they are not just rehearsing the play but are also creating the play. The role of memory in the creation of the play is multilayered. There are the actors memorizing their lines. There is the role of memory in the story of the play they are rehearsing. There is the use of memories from the actors own lives that become part of the creation of this new play. There is the part memory plays when we have lost something and need to try and recreate it. For me the play is really about the role memory plays in the creation of art. How do we pass down memories from one generation to the next but by telling stories. This is my reading of what I saw and as such it holds meaning for me, but may not for you. This sounds heavy and confusing. That use of humor I spoke of is really important, it keeps this from becoming simply an exercise in interpretation for it is also entertaining. If you are confused by one section, don’t worry, the scene will change and you’ll find yourself on firmer ground again.
Anemnesis was conceived and written by Steven Epp, Nathan Keepers and Dominique Serrand and directed by Serrand. Epp and Keepers are also two of the cast, both exceptionally good among a cast of very talented performers. There wasn’t a weak performance in the entire show. Epp, gets to play the slightly slow on the uptake member of the troupe and as such, gets several of the best lighter moments. He also gets a chance to show a more serious side when he plays the part of the Messenger character in the play being rehearsed. Keeper gets to shine throughout with the other two standouts Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Masanari Kawahara, as they play the three main characters in the play within the play. Peden giving us a nice subverting of expectations with a “gasp”. Kawahara as the elderly mother suffering from dementia, who doesn’t always remember where she is or even who. He also shows a physical grace in several scenes that adds an unexpected beauty to the work. There is also spare but almost magical use of musical instruments and voice throughout that also heightens the entire work.
I see a lot of productions, one of the benefits of seeing so many shows is running across one like this from time to time. It’s exciting to find a show that you can really discuss afterwards. Not just in terms of whether you liked it or not, but really discussing what it meant. What makes this an especially fortunate find is that not only is it thought provoking but also entertaining. The show is produced by The Moving Company, it ran in late 2021 and was brought back in 2022, but has been beleaguered by covid forced cancellations. It was set to wrap after this weekends performances but has been extended for another week now running through Sunday February 6th. To purchase tickets click here https://www.southerntheater.org/shows/anamnesis