By Lisa Lanzi
“Forgettery” the inclination to forget (humorous - Collins English Dictionary); a faculty or facility for forgetting, a poor memory (Merriam Webster Dictionary); and thus, Tracy Crisp poses the question “if we don’t remember who we were, then who do we become?
Written and performed by Adelaide’s Tracy Crisp, The Forgettery is a non-linear monologue in four parts: Insomnia, Birth, Death, Dementia. For each section, the performer gently delves into a cardboard packing box to retrieve an item (wine, baby onesie, scarf, photograph) that sets the scene, trajectory and mood. In the intimate surrounds of The Studio at the Bakehouse Theatre, the solid direction and dramaturgy is by Maggie Wood and appropriate lighting design by Stephen Dean. This work was first performed in the Adelaide Fringe, 2019 and this remount is part of ZestFest (COTA SA) which celebrates longevity, challenges stereotypes and strives to unlock the possibilities that modern ageing brings.
Insomnia. A woman graces the stage in a demure living room on the 44th floor of an apartment complex in Abu Dhabi as she explains her regular insomniac schedule: bed at 10:30pm, awake at 1:30am and sipping wine as she gazes out the window ruminating on her life as an ex-pat, family, depression and yes, insomnia. As she “sits and sips and thinks” the early morning hours push on, as they do, toward the time when children will awaken and the day’s demands begin. The memories unfold as the exhausted mind roams: the pungent aroma in a hot school classroom as a friend daubs the name of her crush across a ruler with liquid paper; the realisation that she is all at once mother, daughter and granddaughter and how do you possibly reconcile all those roles. Humour punctuates the poignancy: Have you tried yoga? her friends advise - apparently yoga is the “depression equivalent of turning her off then on again”. Meditation seems to raise more questions than it provides answers and “memory is more concrete than conjecture”.
Birth. The woman retrieves an infant’s playsuit from the packing box and a journal from a drawer then reads entries that begin “Dear Baby”. We hear of the excitement, terror, hope anxiety and elation that every first-time mother experiences as her unborn child claims her love and attention even before their eyes meet. Her dad reminds her how like her mother she is and that this baby will probably just “slip out like soap”. But, he didn’t. Complications arose and an emergency caesarean ensued. A “caesarean for the vegetarian librarian”, she quips but the reality is not funny and the baby did not ‘slip’ but ‘rip’ from her. There is silence as we hear of the terror of handing her infant into strangers’ arms as he is taken into surgery to correct his fused cranial sutures. How will he remember, being so young? Should he have to? It is the woman that remembers all, for her son, in case he does want to know.
Death. Keeping her dying father company, the woman sits and knits and talks and listens in turn, as needed. Beautiful reminiscences advance the narrative of a vital and interesting man as she shapes the person through her own memories of him - are they really true or are these constructed memories painting a picture of a man different than who he really was. Crisp takes the voice of both herself and her father and recounts the charming and amusing exchanges they had as he lay in his hospital bed. As Crisp knits, she shares number patterns with her dad based on the length of the scarf she is knitting - the age he is now is the same length as the finished scarf should be, in inches. The reverse of that number is the age her mother was when she died, and so on. Even as his life force fades, her father’s humour remains. When a nurse asks him who the Prime Minister is, a cognition question, the answer is “the Hunt - John Coward”!
Dementia. The woman reaches into the box for a faded, framed photograph and places it gently on the floor. The recollections about ‘Pa’, the grandfather, raise the image of a person forgetting who they actually are so that forgetting becomes the foe and memory is the ally, even if it is another defending those memories. As Pa’s memory shifts and disappears (“I don’t have a memory any more, I have a forgettery”) and the woman comes and goes on various trips so that he might not see her for months at a time, he asks only three questions over and over. Finally, “when all else is forgotten, this is left: he is loved.”
Tracy Crisp’s writing is poetic and deep and sometimes flows with an easy stream of consciousness flavour that resonates with an audience. Her text is meaningful and heightened but at times also earthy and straightforward as befits the moment. The cadence and rhythm of her delivery is very personal and warm, and although Crisp is not an actor, her performance is striking and nuanced with a measured physicality. She is also a novelist and experiencing the image-rich writing of The Forgettery has inspired me to seek out more of her work.
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