Memory Rings – An Eco Fable

Entering the theater, one is intrigued by three “formations” onstage: four white-faced, three-foot marionettes in black gowns with red patches at the hem, their strings rising up into the wings; a group of ropes, also extending up beyond the eye, ending in wood blocks held down by sandbags; and a pile of what turns out to be irregular sections of bark, behind which we see a deer’s head and evergreens. The marionettes, each of which looks like one of the primary actors, will shortly disappear until the end. Forest animals (including the deer) and birds then affix bark to the ropes at various levels forming “the so-called Methuselah Tree, a California bristlecone that is almost 5000 years old.”

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According to the program, this piece is part two in a trilogy of original works addressing environmental concerns. We see Birds, a Rabbit, Boar, Fox, Wolf, and Deer celebrate nature (the tree) as well as fighting to survive primordial ooze, violent storms, and flooding. Animals become human when they remove their heads, but rarely relate. Marionettes depicting people come and go deftly manipulated by actors costumed as evergreens walking on wood blocks so they’re sufficiently tall.

We watch Little Red Riding Hood get eaten and saved by a hunter (he cuts open the animal’s stomach, remember?) to the tune of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woolf?” and hear human workers whistling “Hi Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Connection to the environment? The toppling of redwoods (on screen) is more apt as are Gertrude Stein-type, repeated phrases. Those from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra arrive a complete puzzle. Weatherwise, things just keep getting worse until every living creature is trying to endure against the odds. (Nobody thinks of climbing the tree?) Choreography is often engaging, but most of eighty minutes is spent in obscurity.

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Memory Rings is, however, visually appealing. Design is credited to Jessica Grindstaff who, one presumes, created the wonderful tree and overall graphic theme of tree rings (signifying age).

Puppet Design (Erik Sanko) is striking, Lighting (Brian H. Scott) meticulous, Projection Design (Keith Skretch) evocative (especially love the moon, ooze, and a sky filled with birds.)

I found the animal heads terrific but their costumes jarringly busy (Henrik Vibskov).

Photos by Ed Lefkowicz

2016 BAM Next Wave Festival presents
Memory Rings
Phantom Limb Company
Conceived by Jessica Grindstaff and Eric Sanko
Direction by Jessica Grindstaff
Choreography by Ryan Heffington
BAM Harvey Theater
November 20, 2016
BAM Next Wave Festival Calendar 

About Alix Cohen (1769 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.