Ledbetter does a convincing job of portraying a young adult who wrestles greatly with being present in life and has a hard time letting his walls down in order to let people in. The performance goes beyond the typical arrogance and defiance displayed by a young person seeking independence, and makes it clear that this individual has experienced an unconventional amount of grief that is impossible to handle all on one’s own. It is apparent why his past has led him to extremely distrust other human beings, but completely takes over his ability to truly connect with others and attempt to heal the wounds.
In the midst of David’s main story, we also meet characters in his world that provide insight into his personal life. His buddy, Elijah, (the energetic and captivating Richard Prioleau), and girlfriend, Carly, (the witty and fiery Claire Warden), have struggles of their own when it comes to true intimacy in a relationship and learning how to communicate with each other, and further mirror the lack of stability in David’s existence. When we meet the woman who becomes engaged to David’s father, Marie, played by Lisa Bostnar, this is when a turning point occurs and helps the audience understand David’s relationship with his mother and how he feels about any woman who is threatening to take her place. Bostnar’s sensitive and empathetic demeanor, as she has also experienced the loss of a loved one, is greatly tested as she tries to grow closer to him and have him find closure.
Under Jessi D. Hill’s strategic direction, select members of the cast sat in the back of the stage, while central stories unfolded on the main stage. Patiently waiting their turn, these actors would emerge from the outside as they came forward to share their own story. This unique form of rotation makes for an interesting approach and is helpful understanding each relationship story individually, instead of endlessly going back and forth between scenes. The only real disconnect was moments when characters seemed to be talking “at” each other, instead of naturally engaging in conversation.
The topic of David’s research, the demise of the elephant population, serves as a significant metaphor for his own relationship with memory as it acts as the key to one’s survival. As he witnesses a once reliable and solid mechanism start to weaken and lose steam, David struggles to understand the implications of his future as he cannot any longer avoid his past. The individuals that he meets along the way, including the kind and intuitive older woman, Olivia, (Victoria Vance), and the wise and eloquent Kasem, (Ariel Estrada), attempt to provide a safe space for him to unload his troubles, which are met with much defense and resistance.
After losing his mother and brother in horrific circumstances and living with a father also in pain, David feels completely alone in the world, except for the memories that have produced so much turmoil in his life. Like an elephant who “never forgets,” these memories are entrenched in David’s psyche and are as vivid as the day that they happened, with David not being able to let go – even years down the line.
Costume designer Valerie Joyce features practical designs for the outdoor setting by Parris Bradley, with characters dressed in loose, comfortable clothing as they engage in daily life in remote settings. Sound design by Miles Polaski relies on soft and soothing sounds from nature, such as birds humming, to bring the outdoors element to life and blends seamlessly with the narrative.
A Persistent Memory is powerfully haunting and will leave audiences pondering the significance of memory in determining their life’s journey. A smart, valuable, and heartbreaking piece of theater that you won’t soon forget!
A Persistent Memory (through June 18, 2016)
Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission