You tread softly into The Memory Place. Others will share their memories as you are subtly ushered toward your own. Dim, colored lights guide you through the corridors and backrooms of your mind—and of the Edge Theater, where “The Memory Place” runs through June 11.
“The Memory Place” is the tenth iteration of Pivot Arts’ annual festival of theater, music, dance and multidisciplinary performance. The lineup is normally a typical festival mix of mostly unrelated pieces, but this year co-curators Eli Newell and Pivot founder-director Julieanne Ehre gathered five pieces under a tender theme that places each small audience in a peculiarly sympathetic relationship with the performers. Like most festivals, there are some standout pieces and others that would benefit from further workshopping or editing. And who knows? Those might be works-in-progress anyway. The digital program—which I didn’t look at until afterward for fear of my screen breaking the spell (a directorial accomplishment in itself)—gives only the names of pieces and artists. I had the privilege of a press release, but I was glad not to have read it thoroughly beforehand and thus experience the show unburdened by expectation.
One standout performance is “Jesu Maria,” named for Joan of Arc’s battle standard, by director and writer Lucky Stiff. In an emotionally generous performance as delicate and detailed as a butterfly wing, they summon an ancestral ghost with a photo transparency, resurrect their grandparents through the bodies of audience members, and perform other quiet acts of magic that build a gauzy bridge between the living and dead.
Several pieces explore the ambivalent brew of feelings that can accompany unearthed memories. Polish film director Wojtek Ziemilski gives a slideshow tour of his Warsaw apartment, unveiling how a place can hold fond memories for one while being a site of horror for others. Marisel Vera’s play “You Can’t Cover the Sky with Your Hand” follows a handful of Puerto Rican women through the last century, their fates buffeted by political, religious and familial forces. And dancer-choreographer Davon Suttles’ “Past the Heavens” rises through darkness and doubt to thunderous transcendence on twin wings of gospel music and tap dance.
The resonating triumph of “The Memory Place” is atmosphere: Tone and tempo marked by an unhurried journey through soft-lit cinderblock walls, papered with pages from books; nostalgic objects ripped from dreams and in small arrangements along the way; recordings of indecipherable whispers in a hallway; a prompt to the audience to reflect and share a memory with their neighbor—which creates a soft murmured soundtrack of its own. Lighting designer Connor Sale, scenic designer Matthew York and sound designer Daniel Etti-Williams forge synapses that link chambers of cultural and individual memory from artists and audience into a collective mind.
“The Memory Place” at The Edge Theater, 5451 North Broadway. June 1 -11, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30pm, Sundays, 4 & 7:30pm. $35 general admission, $20 students. Tickets here.