J. A. Di Bello’s Review of Memoirs of a Forgotten Man

May 31, 2019

Shadowland Stages

Ellenville

     It appears Brendan Burke, Producing, Artistic Director at Shadowland Stages, has opened a refreshing and stimulating phase of theatre along his end of the Canal. The production and style of D.W. Gregory’s Memoirs of a Forgotten Man is pure and unabashedly Epic Theatre, delivered à la Bertold Breacht: didactic, alienated and with intentions of being “in-your-face.” 

 

To emphasize the didactic aspects of this worthy production, know first: “The play’s the thing.” And there is little doubt, if we continue that Shakespearean allusion, that playwright D. W. Gregory’s intention is clear: “Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the [audience] ...”   Well versed in theatre, she, Gregory, as well as Director Burke, have a firm and steady hand of Breachtian techniques, knowing full-well her purpose in placing characters on the Shadowland stage is not so much to entertain or humor as it is to expose the “power of propaganda,” in Washington, Moscow and even good ol’ Ellenville.

A recent interview with Sharon J. Anderson of CTAF, Gregory revealed her deep-rooted contempt for what she sees as political chaos, one she believes that has brought partinsanship to the gunnels. "We’ve accepted the erosion of some foundational norms, but we still have a free press. We still have – despite efforts to undermine it – a democracy."  Although the play concentrates on print medium, Gregory’s obsession is current, i.e., it includes mass media. As it remains the primary source of public information, it surpasses all levels of hyperbole, embellishment and exaggeration once found in common journalistic rhetoric.  

To relate these views to the present, Gregory sets her play in Moscow during the reign of JosephStalin(1878 –1953) with a Nikita Khrushchev(1894-1971) thrown in for a for a greater sense of relevancy. The play fairly assumes that common knowledge recognizes that these two dictators were murderers and masters of twisting truth into lies and rewriting history. Textbooks and novels were collected and destroyed, statues and historic paintings were demolished and or hidden away, names of cities changed, as if to change the facts if not the course of history. It happened then; it happens now. Authors banned. Family names erased. All, in part, an effort to change history and atone for the factual past.

Bringing a message of machinations to the stage is dramatically problematic. To that end, actor Ben Paul Williams, a multi-talented actor, is stunning on the Shadowland Stage. He delivers 2 credible characters, the Amazing Azarov, the performer, and Alexei S., a younger man and a journalist with an incredible memory. Further Kathy McCafferty, a well-respected veteran of the Ellenville stage is memorable and convincing too, as she provides the character of Natalya Berezina, a middle-aged psychologist. The key, however, lies in the abilities of another Shadowland Stages’ veteran, Sean Cullen. His character’s, Kreplev, function is to review the psych work-up and determine if it is acceptable, which means in compliance with what the government will find to be copasetic. As an actor he represents the force that allows the audience to know this is no ordinary play. He, in his pivotal role, directly addresses the audience, which is almost to say, “Listen up, you are a part of this.”

Outstanding here, since multiple casting was a part of the plan, are the abilities of Samantha Rosentrater, as she clearly represents, without confusion the characters she quite adequately presents. As far as the others are concerned, the casting maneuver works, with the glaring exception of Sean Cullen’s doubling as Kreplev, and then as the brother, Vasily. The identification and or misidentification detracts from the production's purpose.

As urgency and purpose are of concern, Memoirs of a Forgotten Man does not connect with today’s partisan politics. Stalin and Khrushchev are somehow lost in the last century.

Factual knowledge is sine qua non in a functioning democracy. Without benefit of a documented survey, this writer believes a significant number of citizens listen, watch or read from a source that most agrees with their personal beliefs and prejudices. Few will name 2 or 3 primary sources. Try it.

Never the less one must ask, “Where are the facts?” In the public schools? Ms. Gregory, in her interview, believes the schools are underfunded in this respect. This writer believes the contrary. Know when a greater number of professionals are involved in the delivery of social services than the teaching of history, there are consequences.

Memoirs of a Forgotten Man will continue its run at Shadowland stages through June 16. Tickets and additional information are available on line at https://shadowlandstages.org/2019-season/memoirs-of-a-forgotten-man/

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