A play about love, loss and recovery, A Persistent Memory offers poetic guidance on how to cope with and transcend trauma.
Spanning across multiple perspectives and locations, Jackob G. Hofmann’s A Persistent Memory exhibits impressive emotional and narrative depth in a crisp, concise production. The play’s current staging at the Beckett Theatre runs for 90-minutes and tells the story of a young man named David Huntington (Drew Ledbetter) whose research into the neurological habits of elephants results in unlocking some of the secrets hidden in his own psyche. Touching on themes of addiction, conservation, family and memory (to name a few), A Persistent Memory thrusts audience members into a complex story about love and loss, thinly veiled by an examination of African wildlife.
During the opening scene, the stage’s backdrop glows in brilliant red, revealing the set for the night’s performance; numerous wooden crates, a bed and dining set, all placed before a row of giant elephant tusks assembled like vertical bars of a cage. One-by-one, members of the cast emerge on stage, their silhouettes motioning individual actions – rowing, playing the violin, pleading – as they move around the stage’s division. In the background, distorted violin tones drift into sirens. The last image of this opening sequence shows the lead character, David, raising a gun to his head as the soundscape crescendos and warps into hysteria, before the music drops, the lights soften and the play begins in the present day with David in Uganda.
Launching into A Persistent Memory, a dual narrative readily crops up in the early scenes of the play. Opening on a discussion between Olivia (Victoria Vance) and David about his intentions in Uganda – research surrounding elephant behaviors, and more specifically, peculiarities in their behaviors – the conversation steadily drifts onto David’s own unusual actions following recent mysterious and traumatic events. Throughout the play, the narratives are carefully balanced, as Hofmann delicately unfolds the connections between human and elephant strategies of dealing with trauma and memory. He subtly pushes the narrative forward through a mixture of educational and confessional scenes, echoing university lectures and meetings for substance-abuse support groups, along with direct discourse between the play’s characters. Despite the weight of the play’s themes, the occasional humor in A Persistent Memory is not lost on the audience, with quick lines and witty replies prompting a number of chuckles from the crowd during the performance.
In a leading role, Drew Ledbetter exhibits an easy command of the stage, a skill that is characteristic of each cast member. There is a smooth chemistry on-stage at all times, from the opening scene between David and Olivia, carrying through to the jarring, sexual moments shared by Elijah (Richard Prioleau) and Carly (Claire Warden), and later during the more tender exchanges between David and the elephant expert, Kasem (Ariel Estrada), or between David and his future step-mother, Marie (Lisa Bostnar). The actors’ talent and versatility is especially visible in their moments alone on stage, the educational or emotional depth of their monologues offering an effective and insightful contrast to the higher-action, dialogue-dominated scenes. It seems, in these moments, that the individuals on stage are different characters to their previous selves, showcasing their public, then private personas. Most significantly, it shows the audience how flawed and truly human each character is, how each individual carried into their present a heavy memory from their past.
The play’s closing scene echoes its beginning with the play’s many narratives neatly concluded through interconnected monologues on memory and elephants, finishing with each individual character standing in spotlights across the stage. The image of David with the gun is revisited, accompanied by a similar red backdrop, as the music crescendos once more. As the final curtain falls the audience grasps a glimpse of the characters’ transcendence beyond trauma, still wondering if that is ever truly possible or if, like elephants, they will forever carry their past with them. The most, perhaps, that we can all strive for is to carry our memories in a way that does not hinder but empowers our present selves; A Persistent Memory certainly offers a compelling, poetic narrative that prompts its audience to do so.
A Persistent Memory is playing at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row through June 18. It is written by Jackob G. Hofmann, directed by Jessi D. Hill, and stars Drew Ledbetter and Lisa Bostnar. Tickets are available through Telecharge.
Photo Credits: Russ Rowland.