Memory is central to human experience, but sometimes remembering needs a little help, a mnemonic, to make thoughts, experiences and knowledge stick.
Mnemonics (neh-MON-iks) include the name Roy G. Biv to remember a rainbow’s colors in sequence (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), rhyme to recall the year of Columbus’ first voyage (ocean blue and 1492) or letters for stroke symptoms (Face Arms Speech Time).
In the play “Mnemonic,” bits and pieces of life — images, objects, language — float through time to assemble into memory and meaning, left in large part for audience members to put together.
Director David Jortner has worked on past Baylor Theatre productions rooted in history and geography, such as “Mad Forest,” set in 1980s-’90s Romania, and the Elizabethan-era “Mary Stuart,” but “Mnemonic” isn’t quite as bound by time and space.
“I was looking for a play more about who we are as humans than any issue per se,” he said. “And I wanted something interesting for students and the design team to work on.”
The British theater company Complicite created “Mnemonic” in 1999 and the work features overlapping and shifting narrative lines. There’s Virgil (Brody Volpe), trying to keep up with his girlfriend Alice (Alice Myatt) as she travels through Europe on a search for her father. Then there’s Ötzi the Iceman, the frozen corpse of a man who died some 5,000 years ago in the Alps and that has served as a window into our knowledge of early man.
Their interlocking stories, connected as they are by theatrical mnemonics, take a cast of 17 actors into 67 characters with lines in six languages: English, German, French, Yiddish, Polish and modern Greek. That’s important, said the director. “Language tells us who we are,” he said. “Memories and stories really tell us who we are.”
The complexity of language and accents paled, however, to the technical side of the show, which features projection screens and a narrow walkway mounted above the Mabee Theatre stage, 250 projection cues, more than 800 audio cues and hundreds of prop leaves and sleep blinders for the audience.
“It’s remarkably hard,” admitted Jortner. “It’s an incredibly physical piece.”
In the end, it’s up to the audience how the parts are put together, somewhat like a dance concert with a narrative thread, but visuals left to viewers’ interpretations.
“The final moment of this play is just gorgeous,” the director said.