Ariel Estrada

Cognitive Dissonance

So much has been written about elephants—their vast capacity for family and emotions, as well as the horrific plight of being hunted and maimed for the ivory—that it’s easy to see why Jakob G. Hoffman chose this magnificent species as a subtext for his play, A Persistent Memory. It is the story of a young, wealthy philanthropist, David Huntington (Drew Ledbetter) attempting to make sense of his issue with time and lapses of memory. Elephants and memory—two things that have a long association.

There are numerous threads of the plot that transcend time in David’s world, one where he is never without his journal. It’s difficult to know whether David journals because he’s continually trying to make sense of the difficult losses he has experienced or as an antidote to his self-diagnosed early-onset Alzheimer’s. His addiction to sugar pills to calm his nerves doesn’t appear to help. While in Uganda he meets Olivia (Victoria Vance), a middle-aged, UNICEF worker from Belgium. David’s Ugandan friend from boarding school (Richard Prioleau) has called ahead to introduce them. She tells him of new, strange behaviors by the local elephants and alludes to events that have happened in his life, which makes David uncomfortable. Regardless of what she has been told, she is attracted to him.

Elijah’s girlfriend Carly (Claire Warden) is a concert violinist with a drug problem, and while it seems they have had intense sexual relations, those have now dwindled, to Carly’s annoyance. Kasem (Ariel Estrada), a Thai man and elephant expert, is soliciting funds from David’s family foundation. He is easily angered when David mispronounces his name—it’s KAH-sam—and he walks with a limp that is never explained. Lastly, Marie (Lisa Bostnar) is the fiancée of the elder (unseen) Huntington. She wants father and son to move on from the tragedies that have upset their lives.

Hoffman attempts to address drug and alcohol addiction; sexual issues, from latent homosexuality to middle-aged crises and affairs; trauma, including murder, suicide, and death; depression; and possibly early-onset Alzheimer’s. Those are just the human issues. Stories of elephants in captivity being abused and the ravages of elephant poaching are woven throughout.

Hoffman’s non-linear approach to memory issues works well—“I thought I had already been there”—to show the nagging thoughts plaguing David. Being totally present in any situation is difficult for him. However, because none of the story lines is linear, they prove so confusing that the ending, when it comes, is unexpectedly abrupt. Both playwright and director allow the script to get lost in an abundance of stories that never dig deep enough into the meaning of existence, a question that also preys on David's mind.

Silly script details torture A Persistent Memory, specifically with regard to David and his dialogue. When Olivia hands him a picture of Lake Victoria, his commentary on Africa is childlike: “I can remember growing up, if someone would mention Africa to me, I would immediately think of Tarzan movies, apes—that sort of thing,” but he never moves into a more learned dialogue about Africa.

The redemption of A Persistent Memory is the talented, diverse cast. It is unnerving to witness Warden as Carly experiencing an overdose, and Prioleau’s subtle delivery of Elijah’s affection for David is moving. As Kasem, Estrada’s devotion to the elephants is heartfelt. Vance’s monologue in the AA meeting talking about her devotion to good vodka, neat, is clear and on point.

As David, Ledbetter shows exasperation with not only himself and others, but his lapses of memory are profound. Director Jessi D. Hill uses the actors well to create a fluid expression of time against David’s memories weaving in and out, but in the end A Persistent Memory still feels like a series of vignettes.

When a play feels like it’s not coming together, it’s easy to hear dialogue that reinforces what’s wrong with the script. In a conversation with Elijah about coming late to Carly’s violin performance, David says, “I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s like my mind decided to log it away as something that already happened. Like a past memory. Forget it. I know it doesn’t make any sense.” And, too often, neither does A Persistent Memory.

A Persistent Memory is playing through June 18 at the Beckett Theatre (410 W. 42nd St., between 9th and 10th avenues). Evening performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday and 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. There is an additional matinee at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15. Tickets are $49.50. Due to the subject matter, this may be inappropriate for ages 12 and under. For more information and to purchase tickets visit http://www.apersistentmemory.com/

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A Game of Treachery

Letter of Marque Theater Company’s Double Falsehood is a tight and neat production of a play credited to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and adapted for the 18th-century stage by editor Lewis Theobold. There is some debate whether Shakespeare actually wrote this play, but director Andrew Bothwick-Leslie, in program notes, suggests that audiences put that aside and enjoy the ride through this “wild and unnerving story.”

Double Falsehood is a story of betrayal, forced marriage, rape and reconciliation. Duke Angelo, played by Nolan Kennedy, has two sons. Roderick (Welland H. Scripps) is upstanding, while the other, Henriquez (Adam Huff) is a hooligan. Henriquez causes a lot of trouble for everyone because he can’t keep his desires for women who don’t want him to himself. First, he rapes Violante, played by the wonderfully physical Poppy Liu. At one point, when she is overcome with disgust after Henriquez’s violation, she rubs and hits her body as if she could physically rid herself of the experience.

Next, Henriquez insists on marrying Leonora (Montana Lampert Hoover), his friend Julio’s (played by Zach Libresco) love interest. He does it because he can. After all, he is a nobleman, which trumps Julio’s power. Not only that, Leonora’s father, Don Bernardo, played with weight and depth by Ariel Estrada, is so hungry to align himself with the Duke’s wealth that he forces the marriage to take place even though Leonora refuses. Like King Lear, Don Bernardo is full of hubris and self-import. And also like Lear he is humbled in the end, but not before he bellows in rage at his daughter to make sure she marries Henriquez.

As the enfant terrible, Huff does an excellent job and resembles a young Johnny Rotten with his shaggy light-blond hair, which he spikes at times or slicks down at others. His nimble, earthy walk and demeanor give him the charm of a snake making its way slowly toward its prey. Unfortunately, all in his path are hurt by his actions, and he shows no compassion or remorse. He feels perfectly entitled to get what he wants.

The costumes, by Claire Townsend, are an intriguing mix of metaphors, and emphasize the quality of the characters well. Some wore more traditional-looking Elizabethan garb while others, such as Julio and Henriquez, wore contemporary clothing. Henriquez’s costume, in particular—red sneakers, a red hoodie, and a long black coat with gold embroidery on the front—made him look like a hipster straight out of Williamsburg and heightened his “I don’t care what anyone thinks” mentality.

One of the best scenes that Bothwick-Leslie stages is a simulated horseback ride through the woods by Scarlet Maressa Rivera, who plays a citizen, and Gerald, a messenger of sorts. Rivera “rides” through the woods as other cast members run past her with tree branches and a drum beats to indicate horse’s hooves. It’s a wonderful and original idea that is twice as enjoyable the second time. Nolan Kennedy, who plays the Duke, is also the music director, and the lovely musical scenes including a trio singing about death and love, accompanied by Kennedy on the ukulele.

The company did a good job of using the Irondale Center playing area in a beautiful old church. The space has been rendered wide open (no pews or built-in stage, etc.). It can’t be transformed into a black box, but the company utilized rolling panels and a small platform, conceived and designed by Steven Brenman, to create a smaller performance space. At times, the panels were removed to show a wider space, or more distance between places. In Elizabeth theater, time and space were indicated through language, but these small visual indicators helped orient the viewer, especially at the end when there was little movement and a lot of dialogue.

Luckily, all’s well that ends well, in the manner of Nicholas Sparks’s romantic novel The Notebook. When Leonora and Julio are finally reunited at the end of the play, they run to each other and Julio scoops her up high into his arms. Cue the rain. It’s a soppy and romantic moment, but effective nonetheless. If it started out worse than real life, it ends better and, although Henriquez’s actions are particularly heinous, our faith in redemption and justice are restored.

Letter of Marque Theater Company’s production of Double Falsehood plays through April 9. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at the Irondale Center (85 S. Oxford St, Brooklyn). Subway directions: C train to Lafayette Avenue; B, D, M, N, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, 5 trains to Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street; G train to Fulton Street. Tickets are $20; a limited number of tickets will be given away free to the public. To learn more, visit www.lomtheater.org.

 

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