Nomadic Theatre’s first production of the season, Fugue, handles intense themes and an ambitious script with tact and skill. Identity, sexuality, guilt, grief, and the complexity of the human existence are unpacked in this two-and-a-half-hour production, directed and produced by Mark Camilli (COL ’19) and Samantha Matta (COL ’19). This thoughtful production also marks the opening of the brand new Village C West theater, the future (semi-permanent) home for Nomadic productions.
Fugue begins as a woman named Mary, played by Healy Knight (COL ’19), is found wandering the streets of Chicago, feet bloody from walking aimlessly for hours. She has no memories and no idea who she is; all anyone can tell is that she’s running from something. She is suffering from fugue, a rare form of amnesia triggered by severe trauma, and mental health specialist Dr. Danny Lucchesi (Alexander Yurcaba [COL ’18]) is called in to help. As the two discover more about her past, they are both forced to confront their own haunting memories, facing realities that are almost too painful to process.
The play has an intense focus on mental health, which demands dynamic performances from the two leads. Knight delivers spectacularly, capturing both the fragility of someone who has lost all her memories and the fierce desperation to escape the confines of her hospital room and the suffocating confusion of her mind. She also captures the nervous energy of her character, who is being constantly bombarded by painful fragments of memories, with consistent fidgeting, evasive eye contact, and a voice that can go from quiet, measured conversation to panicked shouting whenever needed. She offers an incredible emotional range and spends almost the entire play onstage.
The onstage chemistry between the actors is convincing. Mary and love interest Noel (Jake Sanford [COL ’20]) capture the intensity of a first love and the acute awkwardness of teenage romance, while Yurcaba and Knight develop a complex and entertaining rapport within their doctor-patient dynamic. Some minor characters also offer engaging performances. Erin Luck (SFS ’19) plays the high-maintenance, uppity Zelda—a supposed friend from the main character’s past brought in to help jog her memory—with comedic exaggeration, and her loud, brash performance offers comic relief exactly when it’s needed.
The subtle use of sound complements the acting and contributes to the emotional pacing of this production. The use of ambient sound and music enhances this emotional ebb and flow; ambient sounds like wind and rain go unnoticed until key moments, during which their sudden absence highlights the somber importance of the actors’ words.
This play makes many subtle transitions between memory and present time, which would be difficult to follow if it weren’t for the relatively fluid set changes. Furniture placement for each scene helps the audience keep track of the many transitions between present time and the various locations of Mary’s memories. For example, the three functioning doors on set allow people to enter and exit smoothly, helping integrate characters from Mary’s present and those entering from her memories. Since these changes are made so clear, the audience is left to focus on the emotional content of the story and not waste time deciphering details of plot.
Apart from the bare essentials—the few pieces of furniture and the functional doors — certain parts of the set design serve only as a visual attempt to represent the play’s main theme. Countless empty door frames hung from the walls represent the many doors in Mary’s mind that lead nowhere and the fact that she can’t escape her past. While these door frames magnify the feeling of being trapped, it may have been more powerful to allow the acting alone to convey that idea. Knight’s acting projects the nervous, neurotic energy of someone who feels restless in her tiny room, constrained by her memories, so the extra door frames remain as unnecessary visual clutter.
This production of Fugue leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. How much do our memories define us? What happens when we’re afraid of what we really want? If we can’t forgive ourselves, do we risk losing everything, even our minds? This thought-provoking, in-depth look at desire and regret is worth the two- and-a-half-hour time investment. Fugue is a challenging, impressive way to kick off a Nomadic season.