My British colleagues were very high on the Theatre de Complicite’s latest, Mnemonic, devised by the company but conceived and directed by its guiding (or misguiding) spirit, Simon McBurney. This intermissionless 110-minute show begins with an endless-feeling monologue by McBurney on the importance of memory and our deplorable unmemoriousness. We are each given a pair of eyeshades and a leaf, the former to help us look inward and recapture our memories, the latter to trace its veins with our fingers and realize that these ramifications, like all human lives, go back to a single source. Meanwhile, McBurney pontificates on and on.
The play proper concerns McBurney’s breakup with his girl, played by Katrin Cartlidge; the young woman’s efforts to trace her father, uprooted by the Hitler-inflicted diaspora; and scientists’ attempts to figure out more about the remains of a 5,000-year-old man found well preserved near the Italo-Austrian border. The love story, the search story, and the archaeology story do not really mesh, nor do they have much to do with McBurney’s ramblings about memory. But the thing provides opportunities for simulating train rides, for making a collapsible chair become the prehistoric remains, and for McBurney’s showing himself off in the nude. I trust my forgoing a more detailed account will not reflect poorly on my mnemonic skills.