Review: The Memory Place at Pivot Arts Looks at Life Through Different Cultures in a Promenade Performance

The Memory Place is a multidisciplinary collection of vignettes that begins in the lobby of the Edge Theater. The audience is welcomed, asked to turn off their phones, and most importantly for this experience, they are asked to be present. There is a moment of silence as the audience waits for the doors to be opened and then an adventure begins.

Pivot Arts director Julianne Ehre conceived, produced, and curated the promenade performance; the audience sees different scenes as it travels through the theater’s spaces. It is a beautiful collaboration where the audience is kept guessing what will be next. We see a mural composed of old book pages as we make our way to the first performance space. The book pages are in English and German with illustrations that recall Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls. I found it enchanting and comforting as I was a rather solitary kid who loved books and early illustrations. One memory recalled.

In this space the audience sees Uncle Sam sitting at a desk. The actors are not identified in the program; they play several roles as guides and characters. Uncle Sam discusses how the USA colonized Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. The shameful history of sterilization of women is acted out. A woman is told that if she wants to get a job, she has to have her tubes tied; she is promised that can be undone easily if she wants more children. The intent is to whiten the tiny island nation and of course, create an underclass.

Color caste is brought up as a woman reminds her husband that his mother does not like his marriage to a Negrita and prayed for the grandchildren to be white-skinned. The lighter the better to be a part of society and climb into a higher class. When the woman decides to have the sterilization operation, she meets another woman who has insurance and says that she is thrilled to not have any more children. She wants control over her body and freedom from the prison of forced birth. The woman who wants to be hired has only Medicaid, which will not pay for the operation, digging people deeper into poverty.

Andrew Carr. Photo by William Frederking.

The next vignette is a multimedia experience. The audience is divided into two to have an even more intimate experience. A zero-proof cocktail is offered and a gold star can be taken if anyone wants to be a participant in the next scene. I took the cocktail and declined the participation star. The audience is led into a room where a sad harlequin sits. The harlequin gives jewelry and a hat to two gold-starred people. The participants are also given a necklace of blood transfusion bags filled with blue liquid.

A film by Polish director Wojtek Ziemilski called The Grounds is projected on the screen. A tour of his relatively simple apartment full of books is shown. Then the hallway with a dead rat and then the parking lot. We learn that the parking lot was a mass grave from WWII. The gold star and the transfusion bag take on different meanings.

We were escorted to a room to reflect on memories from our most beloved home and then to share that with the person sitting next to us. I found that to be a very emotional experience as I recalled my grandparents’ yellow house. It was the one constant of my life and has been replaced by a public transit expansion. I felt safe and happy there. I wondered if anyone else would know what was once under the Pink Line.

The next experience was a meditative dance featuring three women who carried luggage onto the stage. The slow-motion pace of the dance vignette was too long. Perhaps it wasn’t and maybe the pace played tricks on my mind. The lights also had a very hypnotic effect in evocative shades of red and violet. I felt that it was very 1960s moody but a younger person may get a different vibe

The last vignette was a rousing tap dance and gospel experience. A trio of singers featuring Maddison Denault from Kokandy’s Cruel Intentions: the ‘90s Musical. Denault has a memorable voice, eyes, and stage presence. When the trio launched into an acapella version of Donnie McClurkin’s “Total Praise,” I had to catch my breath. They had exquisite harmony and I found it interesting that McClurkin’s song was chosen to accompany a vignette called “Past the Heavens” featuring tap dancer Davon Suttles. It is an exploration of queer relationships through gospel music. McClurkin has spoken openly about his struggle with homosexuality as a gospel singer. He claims that he reversed his homosexual urges through prayer.

Suttle is accompanied by tap dancer Andrew Carr in a brilliant display of the art of tap. Suttles and Carr dance in harmony and segue into a call-and-response dance. It was an exhilarating spiritual experience. There is a history of drums and other percussion to drive away evil spirits in some rituals. The feet of Suttles and Carr whipped the musicians and some of the audience into what can be called a praise moment. I also recalled tap lessons from childhood and never knew that it could have such an effect in real life.

The Memory Place is an uplifting and emotional journey. This is a curated show specific to the Edge Theater space. It features light design by Connor Sale, scenic design by Matthew York, and sound design by Daniel Etti-Williams. Director Ehre creates an experience that brings the memory places of people who are “othered.” I recommend that you take the journey.

The Memory Place plays at the Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, through June 11. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm with performances at 4pm and 7:30pm on Sunday. The show runs for about two hours without intermission. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $20 for students. Check out the website for events and talks happening in conjunction with the show.

Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.