Review: Memory exam imagines a test for the elderly with life-and-death consequences

Older people are doing pretty well in America. Between Medicare and Social Security, those over 65 enjoy a magnitude of benefits lavished on no other age cohort. And it should come as no surprise: Older Americans are on average richer than their young compatriots and show up to vote in proportions that surpass any other group. Some have even called our federal government a “gerontocracy,” led by a President (79), Senate Majority Leader (71), Chief Justice (67), and Speaker of the House (82). ), all well beyond retirement age. But will it necessarily be so forever?

Steven Fechter envisions a reactionary regime in The memory test, currently performed off-Broadway by the Oberon Theater Ensemble at 59E59. In a time not so distant from our own, Americans will point out their elderly neighbors who show signs of memory loss: a forgotten name, a misplaced credit card, a wrong turn on a familiar street. The person reported will then be forced to submit to a memory test, deceptively simple but with serious consequences. One wrong answer and the test subject is euthanized. It’s like a less sexy version of Logan’s Race.

Facing their own exams in three days, Tom (Gus Kaikkonen), Jen (Bekka Lindström) and Hank (Alfred Gingold) have contracted the services of Dale (Vernice Miller), a psychotherapist who knows the exam format and will coach them. on how to forward it – for a fee. They meet secretly in the woods, away from prying eyes and surveillance cameras, for a high-stakes test prep session that would likely piss off the average Kumon instructor’s pants.

The art of dystopian drama is a kind of macabre striptease. You show the audience just enough and let their imaginations do the rest – let them draw the timeline of the world outside the theater and the one they grimly envision inside. Fechter does it well, especially in the muffled mention of PHAWB, the Bureau of Public Health and Welfare responsible for administering the tests. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the public health bureaucracy empowered during Covid, primarily to benefit the elderly, could one day backfire. We tremble under our masks at the prospect.

Gus Kaikkonen, Vernice Miller, Bekka Lindström and Alfred Gingold star in Steven Fechter The memory testdirected by Terrence O’Brien, for Oberon Theater Ensemble at 59E59 Theatres.
(© Carol Rosegg)

It is not without reason that Fechter omits the details of this revolution, making his most outrageous artifice the idea that the ancients would one day voluntarily renounce power. Jen, who was once her town’s mayor, believes “eight years is long enough for any elected official.” Did you hear that, Jerry Nadler?

Although its concept is sound, The memory test suffers from a lackluster production under the direction of Terrence O’Brien. More than once, I wondered if the actors were playing forgetful characters or actually forgetting their lines (the hesitant delivery and generally wooden performances suggest the latter). Fight choreographer Bryce Biederman and intimacy choreographer Rebecca Brinkley inject at least a little naturalism through their elements by making them as awkward as they surely would be in real life.

At one point, two figures roll across Tamara L. Honesty’s set, the centerpiece of which is an obviously fake rock formation decorated with the authoritative metaphor of autumn leaves. It provides levels within the comfortable confines of theater C, but not much else. Amy Sutton’s contemporary costumes tell us we’re not too far from the present, while Chuck Hatcher’s sound design offers plenty of snapping branches and barking dogs to suggest the perils lurking just outside the house. stage. Its quiz music between the two scenes of the play (before the test and after) quickens our pulse and provides a dark commentary on the gamification of everything.

Provocative and sometimes even thrilling, The memory test is a timely symbol of our new age of paranoia, as lawmakers in Texas and California deputize for average citizens to enforce abortion and gun laws, respectively. It should grieve us all that the playwright cannot envision a future in which people (regardless of political affiliation) aren’t perfectly willing to report their neighbors to the state.

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