There are a few things I don’t like. I don’t like doing dishes. I don’t like mean people. I don’t like eggplant or olives. I don’t like hangnails. One of the things near the top of my don’t like list is feeling stupid. It’s a thoroughly unattractive trait (right up there with humming to movie scores…inside the theater, I know, nobody’s perfect) but I’d argue that along with a thirst for knowledge and a sincere curiosity, the drive to not look stupid on any topic, has served me well in some cases. While I often attend a play having intentionally done NO research, there are certainly shows where it would behoove me to have read notes or look up some key events or people in order to simply follow along. I don’t like when a show is dumbed down with condescending, extraneous exposition, discrediting its audience, but equally frustrating is when the perspective of the play makes a lot of assumptions about the level of education of its audience on central themes to the play. The Memory Stick was a play that probably made sense to some people, but I got hung up on huge gaps in information, felt lost, possibly alienated, and ultimately lost interest.
On the plus side, this is a highly stylized piece and despite content issues, I appreciated the storytelling style. From the standpoint of oral traditions key to the cultures depicted, it made sense. Dream/vision sequences, shared lines, a corps chorus almost at times and special attention to cadence and poetic/lyric rhythm worked for me. In fact, this structural choice helped to draw parallels for me where other devices (or lack thereof) did not. I wasn’t bothered by the delivery of lines or the acting, but rather what was not said.
It seems to me if you’re drawing parallels or want the audience to, they need to have some reference points to start with. Some tent poles if you will. As it was, I perspired a lot and came up short with regard to a clear vision. This was a journey with no revelation at the conclusion, no questions answered and actually uncertainty as to what questions might have even been asked.
I’m a 42 year old, college educated American, which admittedly, might not mean as much as it used to, but I’ll tell you, even after reading up on Chelsea Manning, The Easter Rebellion, and James Connolly, I still felt stranded, and in disagreement with what I THINK (strong emphasis on think) the message of this play was. There’s a “betrayal” that I think is being touted as an act of heroism, but the impetus for this act initially is a money-making scheme. Its more complex than that for sure, but I had to work too hard to figure out if there were protagonists or antagonists in the current day plot. I feel most certain that I missed the point or happen to be too distanced in perspective to understand/agree, but the “heroes” of the present day plot don’t seem to function according to their “lights” as perhaps the historical figures referenced do.
Speaking of lights, lighting and use of space were good and the set, sound, props and costumes were all at a professional level, but technically this play also has some odd ambiguities and discrepancies. Use of projections specifically in some instances seemed congruent and helpful, in others it honestly felt like an error and a distraction.
This is an Irish play and the best I can figure, more time was taken to detail “American” history than Irish history or more contemporary references to help that audience. The references to Wounded Knee felt the most fleshed out, explained, and for me the most interesting. Perhaps because I recall a bit of it from High School, perhaps because it’s just a dramatic piece of our history capable of stirring conflicting emotions, or maybe because it started to erect those desperately needed tent poles. I suspect it was the most intriguing to the original perspective (the playwright) and was assumed to be the least commonly known to the Irish audience. Meanwhile anyone ignorant of Irish History, details of military occupation/conflict of the last decade and the specifics of various WikiLeaks was left to die on the battlefield. That ignorance while not pretentious or probably intentional, was distracting and clearly, painful for me. Without an intermission to google the bejesus out of stuff to try to cram for the test, or unhelpful notes in the program, my thirst for engagement dried up.
I wanted to applaud the attempt, but the failure to connect made that exceedingly difficult. I wasn’t particularly moved, enlightened, or… entertained for more than a few moments. I tried. I did. Honest. Still, I’ve got to place some of the blame on the piece itself. 2 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a show that certainly had merit in concept and gets partial credit for style, but felt incomplete, forced and static while loudly proclaiming me Jon Snow and reminding me that I know nothing. The Memory Stick played through 4/30/2017 at the San Jose Stage in Downtown San Jose.