Amnesia is pretty freakin’ fascinating. And so I was disappointed when Fugue, a play about a rare form of amnesia, turned out to be overdone, and its themes all too obvious.
Fugue amnesia is when a person literally runs from a horrid memory and, consequently, ends up running from the memory of his or her entire life. Playwright Lee Thuna uses this concept — the need to flee from the past — to frame the play: A patient, “Mary Smith” was found wandering the Chicago subways, her feet battered, showing signs of constant running. A doctor on leave is coaxed back to the hospital to work on her case. Throughout, we piece together Mary’s story; the Mary of the present interacts with the characters of her past. And this storyline coaxes out the doctor’s past. In the end, we find out what made Mary leave her life, and Dr. Danny leave medicine. Unfortunately, these big reveals don’t feel as climactic as they ought — by the time this long play actually gets there, the truths are far from surprising, as we’ve had heavy hints towards those directions the whole time.
There is something uncomfortable, not believable, in the cast’s performances. The ensemble characters feel like vague sketches of people. Rick Stear as Dr. Danny is nice to look at, but never conveys the guilt-ridden doctor still full of self-doubt. Deirdre O’Connell plays Mary with humor and gusto, and she is often a joy onstage, but her Mary-as-teenager moments feel forced, and stereotypical adolescent-ish.
Oddly enough, it’s the middle of the play that works best, while predicaments are still a puzzle, still (much like the workings of our minds) opaque and compelling.