An improbably articulate baby, abandoned in a park and new to the world, is the narrative anchor for a series of impressionistic memory-themed vignettes in Clay & Paper Theatre‘s A History of Forgetting, now playing in Dufferin Grove Park.
With one of the limp clocks from Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory as its central image, and a pair of giant blue hands framing the stage from either side, the show uses puppetry and masks—some on a grand scale—to take us and its infant narrator on a free-associative, imagistic journey, touching on on lost keys and lost loves, forgotten people and forgotten pasts.
Clay & Paper Theatre has a long history of visually striking work, and some of the images conjured in this piece (designed by renowned Toronto artist Barbara Klunder) prove to be unforgettable. The final moment, resolving the story of the abandoned baby, is particularly lovely. But the uneven blend of whimsey, lyricism, and blunt socio-political commentary at times makes for some uneasy juxtapositions.
Most successful in the show, written by David Anderson and Krista Dalby, are wryly observed moments of everyday forgetfulness, anxiety, loss, and the passage of time. A 15th-century riverside flirtation leading to the origin of the Forget-me-not is amusing, as are a lively rap interlude, a debate by historical luminaries on whether the sun revolves the earth or vice versa, and a witty aside by a rather noisy computer on how Google is supplanting our individual and collective memories.
On the other hand, a moment of romantic longing between two ancient animals in a cave painting is intriguing, but itself seems like a sketch instead of a fully realized portrait. A song about missing the Titanic, with an incongruous cameo by Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, aims for dreamlike surrealism but doesn’t quite hit the mark. And a poetic duologue on the eradication of native culture in residential schools is powerful in and of itself, but seems to belong to another show entirely.
The unevenness occasionally extends to the performers—Heather Brezden, Jay Crews, Michaud Garneau, Shira Haberman, Maria Wodzinska—who bring energy and enthusiasm to the proceedings, but sometimes struggle with tone and volume. The musicians (Jim Bish, Etienne Levesque, Justin Han) are excellent, making the most of some eccentric percussion instruments, a drum set and a saxophone.
All in all, A History of Forgetting is an enjoyable summer showcase for the Clay & Paper Theatre troupe, and at 45 minutes is a brief and pleasant entertainment for those who are looking for a family-friendly outdoor theatre experience that’s off the beaten path.