The word “identity” is often used as a buzzword in the context of contemporary debates about race, gender and sexual orientation. While “identities” can often be used to bring people together, they can also have the function of tearing people apart.
Nomadic Theatre’s most recent production, “Fugue,” directed by Mark Camilli (COL ’19), follows the story of a woman named Mary, played by Healy Knight (COL ’20), who has no recollection of her identity. She has forgotten her name, where her home is, or where she is going. The story begins with her in a hospital room, with doctors describing how she was found by police while walking between subway cars late at night, feet blistered and bloodied without any indication of how long she had been wandering.
Knight described her character as both “a challenge and a joy to play because of how complicated she is.” The audience quickly learns that Mary has been diagnosed with fugue amnesia — a dissociative disorder characterized by a temporary loss of personal identity. With every memory revisited, more psychological pain follows, making for an excruciating, yet necessary, journey to rediscover her past.
“Though Mary has rejected her past for most of the show, I think she cannot shake these formative moments in her life, whether she is conscious of them or not — just like we are so heavily influenced by our surroundings and circumstances at a young age,” Knight said.
The ensuing performance is an intricate dance balancing her past and present as memories slowly merge together like the pieces of a puzzle. Mary drifts between memories of her high school romance with Noel, played by Jake Sanford (COL ’20) and her complex mother, played by Kitra Katz (COL ’20). She simultaneously re-lives her difficulty in balancing her complex relationship with her daughter, played by Madeyln Coles (COL ’19), and her camp counsellor Liz Kruger, played by Suzanne Coles (COL ’17). The interruption of these characters into the isolation of her hospital room is cleverly woven into the script’s narrative, with the cast members delivering complex, emotional performances.
One of the characters affected most is her doctor, Danny Lucchesi, played by Alex Yurcaba (COL ’18). His arrival serves as the catalyst that forces Mary to focus inwardly and talk through her past one step at a time. Not without his own demons, Danny faces a past that parallels Mary’s in more ways than one. Together, the two go about the painstaking process of unraveling her past memories in an attempt to discover what originally incited the fugue state – a reversible form of amnesia.
While the disorder at the heart of the play is rare, the themes explored by the production are more common.
“I think [Lucchesi’s] disillusionment is augmented by tragic circumstances, but I also think it’s something that’s been palpable in my life. I have friends and family members who have dealt with depression in a lot of different ways. Their coping mechanisms were what I founded Danny’s character on,” Yurcaba said.
One of the subtler yet exquisite details of the performance was the lighting design, used to differentiate memory from reality to great effect.
“I wanted to set up a contrast between the memory scenes and the reality scenes using color. The color for each character is meant to represent something about them, which makes them stand out in Mary’s mind,” light designer Liliana Seabol (COL ’19) said.
“Fugue” was designed to resonate with students.
“Everyone can relate to the theme of trying to find yourself and figure out the reasons behind the experiences of your life. This is especially an important topic for students in college, growing away and independently for the first time,” Camilli said.
Ultimately, “Fugue” speaks to the search for identity that is relatable to all walks of life. The chemistry of the cast is evident, but the real spotlight of the show shines on the passions of the actors. Their energy and charisma have an infectious vibe that wraps the audience in tighter and tighter. It is a heartfelt journey thats guaranteed to leave the audience on the edge of their seats until the very end.
“Fugue” will be showing at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Village C Theatre.