Forget Me Not: The New Economy Mass
nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
September 12, 2005
P.S. 122 opened its fall season with Forget Me Not, an exquisite piece of interactive experimental theatre created by the performance art duo Praxis. Comprised of the husband and wife team of Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo, Praxis has been engaged in exploring the sacred moments of the human experience with intimate and personal interactions since its formation in 1999. With the recent and unexpected death of Carey’s mother in April of this year, Praxis decided to use its physical and symbolic concepts to create a piece that experientially explores life and death in a two-act event that is both provocative and profound.
Greeted with the offer of a nurturing hug from both Carey and Bajo, we are then quickly separated and whisked away to wander through a carnival of interactive experiences curated by the ensemble of performers that Praxis has assembled. There is an intoxicating quality to the event, and all of our senses are appealed to directly in some way. But Act I of Forget Me Not—entitled “Tools for the Living”—is more than just a rave. While most of the experiences have an element of immediate gratification to them, many are also evocative of one’s journey through life. Some of these include a kiss, an intimate interlude with someone of the same or opposite sex, a physical competition, a place to heal your wounds, and a corner where you can view the world from different perspectives, all alluded to symbolically with beautiful simplicity.
There is also a cult-like feeling of initiation that is evoked by these backroom encounters and that is heightened by the seductive guides luring us by the hand and whispering their suggestions in our ears. But any initial distrust is dispelled by the sense of warmth and sharing that emanates from the piece’s creators, which is transmitted to us by the rest of the ensemble. All of the offerings are truly offered and not coerced, and ultimately what you choose to experience and how you choose to experience it is left largely up to you. Do you go back for another thumb-wrestling match or another chocolate kiss? Do you sit and watch others experience what you have already gone through? Do you stare and ponder images of childhood on a television screen? What you bring to “Tools for the Living” is inescapably part of the event itself, which at times manifests itself quite literally. I opted not to check my bag when I entered, and found myself weighed down with literal and symbolic baggage as I went on my journey. Eventually I stopped looking for stimulation and started to ponder my surroundings and my experiences. At that moment we were all, without warning, confronted with death.
Of course all along you know this is coming at some point, so there is a somber inevitability that leads to “Tools for the Dying,” the second act of Forget Me Not. As the audience sits together for the first time watching disparate images on a screen, we listen to the retelling of the story of Carey’s mother’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and her subsequent life and death. As we ponder the story, one by one we are escorted backstage, never to return. I was one of the early ones, and had barely realized this process was happening before I was approached and told it was time to go. Not realizing I wasn’t coming back, I left my bag and my companion behind without saying goodbye. While being taken early and unexpectedly was a profound experience, it was apparently at least an equally profound experience to be taken late. One by one the people around you disappear and leave you more and more alone, while a steady stream of coffins rolls from backstage to the theater entrance. By the time someone comes for you, you are somewhat prepared, but still not completely knowing what to expect.
Forget Me Not may be an important performance art collaboration, but it is also an effective and exciting experiment with the theatrical form. In its unique exploration of life and death, Forget Me Not creates individual experiences that are at the same time communal, blurring the lines between performer and artist and the personal and universal, and in doing so manages to live up to its creators’ lofty goal of pointing to what is sacred and profound in human interaction. Forget Me Not closed at P.S. 122 on September 13th, but I hope the future brings more opportunities to experience Praxis’s bold vision and stimulating work.