If you are a raging Europhile, you might love Mnemonic. Created by the British company Complicite, Mnemonic is a fractured, nihilistic, avant-garde performance piece about memory — or so the program notes say. You will sit in a cavernous room in East Liberty's Kirkwood Building. You will see video projections and full nudity. You will hear French, German and Russian. The characters will bombard you with broken dialogue and coy Holocaust references. You will doubt reality, because what is reality, really? Oh, those Europeans! Always pondering the imponderable!
Quantum Theatre has tried this kind of work before, not a "play" so much as a creative potluck. Each actor plays multiple parts, the scenes are fast and heady, and props get reused in endless arrangements. Sometimes these Quantum shows are spectacular (The Collected Works of Billy the Kid), and sometimes they are calculated risks (last year's The Golden Dragon). Mnemonic is an interesting idea that goes nowhere, and takes forever to do so. If "memory" is its central theme — as a long opening monologue proclaims — you may not recall this by the end. In its desperate effort to keep you provoked, Mnemonic forgets to create memorable characters. Yes, it's all very clever to anthropomorphize a chair, but oughtn't they humanize the people first?
At its heart, Mnemonic concerns the "Ice Man," a 5,200-year-old nomad discovered in the Swiss Alps in 1992. The true story is fascinating, and for the first two hours, his mysterious life might astonish you. But as men in lab coats debate the particulars of the Ice Man's life, their uncertainty gets annoying. European intellectuals love this kind of postmodern quagmire, yet eventually their arguments sound like a bunch of stoned anthropologists competing for tenure. Mnemonic starts amicably, then overstays its welcome.
The production's saving grace is its cast, who juggle accents, languages and physical objects without missing a beat. As a pair of disintegrating lovers, Antonio Marziale and Carolina Loyola-Garcia show all the melancholic romance we could want. Artistic Director Karla Boos keeps the stage busy, and some scenes are choreographed so fluidly that actors openly change costumes without notice. Their labor is evident. But what is it all for? I don't quite remember.