Phantom Limb Company’s “Memory Rings” is, to use director/designer Jessica Grindstaff’s description, a “theatrical collage” where marionettes, masks, multi-media, music and movement offer an entertaining feast for all senses. It is, however, much more than that: this work individually and collectively invites us to profoundly reconnect ourselves with the rest of the ever-changing, living Earth.
That’s broadly what this reviewer took from it. I easily predict those of us attending Friday’s sold-out world premiere at Oz Arts Nashville (and tonight’s concluding performance there) will find many ways to look at this astonishing piece, and many things to take from it, as memories of the event gestate in our imaginations. That’s a wonderful gift well beyond the price of any ticket.
With a white floor and backdrop Grindstaff’s perfectly minimalist set (ingeniously lit by Brian H. Scott) is centered by a representation of the nearly 5,000-year-old “Methuselah Tree” that stands as silent and stable witness to all that follows.
There are stark images through Keith Skretch’s excellent video projections that underline the human indifference to natural balance we see throughout the show. But “Memory Rings” doesn’t preach; instead, with references from Gilgamesh to Google (and Little Red Riding Hood too) it offers dramatic food for thought (and heart) while laughing at human absurdities as well. And did I smell some woodland-inspired fragrance in the air? Credit Douglas Little for that nice addition.
Henrik Vibskov’s dreamlike costume design – complete with outfits that have the air of an ancient religious order about them – serves this often surreal production well. Grindstaff’s husband and Phantom Limb co-founder Erik Sanko’s puppet design is masterful; the small human effigies brim with life even when they’re not moving. His original music, sometimes searing (particularly when Jeffrey Zeigler’s commanding cello is heard) and sometimes buoyant, works with such additional pieces as Cassandra Jenkins’ cover of Yusuf Islam’s Wild World and (as part of the show’s mix of silly with serious) Frank Churchill’s “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” to create a splendid soundtrack that’s clearly conveyed by Darron L. West’s exquisite sound design.
Ryan Heffington’s choreography evokes earth and animals at moments of harmony and discord; it fits so seamlessly with other movement and blocking that it always looks natural. Grindstaff’s pacing of the 75-minute show feels organic – it proceeds, and concludes, without any unnecessary dramatic embroidery.
And last, but by no means least, the incredible cast: Lucie Baker, Toby Billowitz, Takemi Kitamura, Lisa K. Lock, Rowan Magee, Aaron Mattocks, Daniel Selon and Carlton Cyrus Ward. What can they not do? From powerful dancing, to moving across the stage floor as if they were floating on water, to controlling puppets with amazing dexterity, these performers turn every moment into a new and enriching discovery.
Sadly the environmental care we must take with Earth seems a far-off memory or scattered dream now, but Phantom Limb’s “Memory Rings” brilliantly reminds us it does not have to be that way: We can choose to line the pieces up and connect them in sustainable ways that will benefit the planet. And we have OZ Arts Nashville to thank for helping to develop and then host this entertaining and edifying world premiere that will later go to CAP UCLA in Los Angeles and BAM in NYC. To quote a well-known writer, “…thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”
“Memory Rings,” performed by New York City’s Phantom Limb Company and directed by Jessica Grindstaff, concludes today (June 20) at 7 p.m. Tickets ($35-$47.50) can be purchased by clicking here. OZ Arts Nashville is located at 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle.