Memory House, a site-specific, collaborative work between Butler University Theatre and the Indiana Medical History Museum, challenged and intrigued audience members April 22-24. Involving all the senses and plumbing layers of emotions, distance and immediacy collide as fragmented sets of events move into and out of a dozen spaces in the two-story brick structure filled with original Victorian-era furnishings and early 20th century mental health memorabilia.
It’s simultaneously engrossing and shame-filled, an act of voyeurism infringing upon the damaged minds and tortured souls of fellow human beings. Directors Melli Hoppe and Michael Bachman, a cast of 20, designers and crew members succeed in evoking wholeness from shards and fragments.
This audience member joined about 70 others on a pilgrimage from room to room, at one time housing cutting-edge medical research, in which actors as patients, doctors, nurses and aides projected active yet absent presence. Eerily, the very moment I glanced at the wall clock, its hands frozen at eight o’clock, it was in reality eight o’clock. My blood ran cold. Another audience member made the same connection. We exchanged glances, and moved into the library, where three nurses stood, stoic, until a nightshirt clad patient approached them, swooned, was upheld, attempted escape, was arrested, struggled, then she upheld a swooning nurse, and on and on.
The time-splintered movements made it seem like we were walking into someone else’s nightmare. Equally essential to the power of the work were the candle-lit centers of focus in each room, death masks of lace propped into wooden frames, installations of clothing and other personal effects, sounds and projections.
A daring evocation of place and people, practices and prescience through multiple arts, Memory House earns a place of distinction in this performance season.