NJ Repertory presents an interesting drama shaded with mystery
D.W. Gregory’s Memoirs of a Forgotten Man, now playing at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, explores the problems that arise when a totalitarian regime, seeking to rewrite history for its own benefit, runs up against a man with a memory that prevents him from forgetting anything he’s seen or heard, even for an instant. The conflicts arising make for an intriguing drama set in the not-too-distant past, but with reverberations to today’s talk of fake news and alternative facts.
Memoirs of a Forgotten Man takes place in 1957 in a Moscow office and in Leningrad in 1937. In Moscow, bureaucrat Kreplov (Steve Brady) is reviewing a research paper by psychologist Natalya (Amie Berkowitz) prior to publication. Her subject is the nature of memory. Kreplow is examining Natalya’s research paper, along with her notes on her research subject Alexei (Benjamin Satchel), for any “political” overtones. During their meetings, Kreplov pushes Natalya for more and more information about Alexei, including his whereabouts and his personal relationship with the doctor, raising her suspicions that this is no ordinary pre-publication examination.
Natalya relates Alexei’s story: A worker for the state news agency in Leningrad, he remembers being at events where Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) spoke, memorizing the speeches at first hearing. Bukharin, found guilty in a Stalinist show trial, was relegated to a “memory hole”—all mention of him eliminated in print, all photos retouched to remove him.
Alexei cannot understand why his infallible memory disturbs his superiors. No one fully explains to him the reason why his is a dangerous gift to have in the turbulent Stalinist era. Alexei’s brother Vasily (Mr. Brady, in a dual role) warns him and their mother (Andrea Gallo) to lie if necessary about their memories of past events. Alexei first goes to Natalya to gain understanding of his problematic memory, later seeking her help in forgetting things.
Director James Glossman moves his actors through the layers of mystery in the play. Using costume changes, the four actors portray ten different characters in the two separate years of the narrative. Steve Brady portrays two Communist functionaries from two eras affected by the Great Purges of the 1930s—the older, world-weary Kreplov and the younger, more idealistic Vasily. Amie Berkowitz plays both Natalya, seeking to protect Alexei’s privacy, and Madame Demidova, a dangerously snoopy neighbor of Alexei and his mother. Andrea Gallo’s mother lives in a gentler world of her past, while being alternately gruff and frightened as Alexei’s editor, Utkin. Finally, there is Benjamin Satchel’s Alexei, possessing an infallible memory and touched with synesthesia. Satchel’s performance is the heart of this show—a man in ways childlike but never childish, understanding that few people perceive the world as he can but not understanding why his ability is not valued as the gift he believes it to be.
Jessica Parks’ scenic design is a multi-leveled space that easily changes from Kreplov’s office in the present to Natalya’s office in the past, from the state news agency to Alexei’s mother’s apartment, aided by the lighting of Jill Nagel. Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes easily convey character identities while giving an overall sense of bland drabness in line with stereotypical views of Soviet fashion.
Memoirs of a Forgotten Man is an interesting drama shaded with enough mystery and suspense to catch an audience’s attention. You will not be disappointed by making the trip to Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company to immerse yourself in the Memoirs of a Forgotten Man.