Monday, October 23, 2023

"Re-memori" at Penumbra Theatre

Inspired by her own life and family history, playwright Nambi E. Kelley has written this solo play about a woman dealing with generations of trauma and resilience. In a tight 75 minutes, we travel with Memori through time as she pieces together her history. It's a powerful, affecting, and engaging piece that's very fitting for Penumbra, which is not just a theater but also a Center for Racial Healing. See it at the St. Paul theater now through November 5. 

Memori is a hairdresser in NYC, and speaks to the audience as if she's answering questions about her life and business. She has a son she doesn't talk about, and she's saving up to pay the taxes on land that her grandmother owned so she can move there and open a salon. We also meet other related characters, including an ancestor who is a slave and a new mother of a baby with uncertain future. Everything seems to hinge on the will of a slave-owner, with people listed like property as to where they will go now. In this non-linear character-driven story, things aren't clearly spelled out, but rather explored through language and imagery.

Shá Cage performs the piece, with Comfort Dolo performing at select performances, including the one I saw. There's no doubt Shá gives an incredible performance, based on past experience, but so too does Comfort, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to see this actor I'm less familiar with. She fully makes the role her own, transforming into the multiple characters, taking us on this emotional journey with her, with them.

The simple set consists of panels that look like aluminum foil, upon which the lighting changes play. A wide array of props are hidden everywhere on the set, and aid in the storytelling (scenic design by Mina Kinukawa, properties design by Abbee Warmboe, lighting design by Latrice Lovett). Director Chris Berry uses the space will, with three separate mini-stages, and clearly delineates the different characters and scenes.

Re-memori is a succinct and powerful play about generational memory, featuring an affecting performance by whichever of the two actors you get to see.