Most of us have forgotten our own history. The details that live past our grandparents or great-grandparents sink into time past our vision. Even worst, we develop a lack of inspiration to dive deep into our lineage. Caught up in the daily race of jobs, school, dreams, the role of family ties diminishes.
The play Amnesia motivates the audience to reclaim their own story. The story is of a Jewish American man from Oakland California who seeks the roots of his family tree. The main character inhabits both the space of Jewish traditions and modern Oakland hip-hop culture. A mix of theatre, dance, spoken word, live music, and rap all integrated into one story. The combination is abrasive at first, but that is the beauty of it – both styles grind up against each other before ultimately fusing.
The story of Amnesia is of a young adult who traces his ancestry from Kiev, New York City, and Arizona. Lead role and writer Ariel Luckey is the only actor in Amnesia. At first this was odd to me because I had never experienced a theatre piece with only one actor. Furthermore, I made sure to not research Amnesiabefore I went to see it in order to lessen the chance of any predetermined expectations. The strangeness of the solo actor quickly faded after the first act and my attention switched following the storyline.
When Ariel Luckey walked out in silence in the beginning, I had no idea who he was. He walked through the aisles making a simple beat with smooth stones in has hands. The lights set a mysterious mood and the band lay prepared but silent. Ariel eased into a mystical tale that drew the audience close into a reflective state. Then, out of nowhere, he says “I’m from Oakland!” followed by live hip hop music and energetic dancing.
But it is more than just hip-hop. The instruments have an Oakland-Jewish flavor: trumpet, violin, cello, accordion, chimes, electronic beats, and vocals. The five musicians handle all of the sound work, whether it be simple sounds to imitate the scenery of the setting, or full-blown songs. Ariel Luckey is talented at spoken word as well as rapping. His personality shines through all of these skills with the same light.
The monologues are sometimes extremely long in length and the fact that he can memorize an entire play is undeniably impressive. At one point, Ariel uses only body language to communicate a scene. I had never seen so many styles of
performance included into a single play with one actor. The variety of theatrical elements is essential in Amnesia and an unforgettable trait of Ariel Luckey.
The magic of Amnesia has to do with its ability to transition. The past-future fusion of language, music, and story allows the play to smoothly alternate between different characters. The main character plays himself in modern day Oakland and often transforms into his great great grandfather. He embodies his own history in an attempt to understand it. The history runs itself through filters like monologues, music, characters, setting, and even interpretive dance.
The switching of the lens brings us closer to essence of Amnesia. There is Oakland, Ukraine, Arizona, New York – and a prayer for all immigrants. The inclusion of immigrants in Arizona portrays a subtle bridge to Mexican-American struggle. The line from Amnesia: “Research itself is a pilgrimage,” resonates with anyone who has never sought the significance of their ancestry.
I was left with Ariel’s last words: “Illuminate the world with sparks of light,” after he had the audience say a prayer for anyone they knew that was struggling. Amnesia touches our hearts where they lay the heaviest: our family. Now I seek my own story with a little more effort, with creativity in mind. One day I hope to tell it in such a spectacular way as Ariel did. After all, as Amnesia says, “You have to go back to move forward.”
About the author:
Michael Gallagher is an undergraduate at California College of the Arts with a major in Writing and Literature. His concentration is in poetry and performance. Michael first got involved with La Peña during his Writing Practicum course taught by Faith Adiele. The course connects writers with local communities around the Bay Area and offers students experience in working with practical writing.