Memory Habit, the play written and directed by John Wells Directing Fellow Eben Joondeph Hoffer, was certainly unlike any other play that I had attended in the past. I had, likely unrealistically, expected a big-budget production like Into the Woods — which I reviewed last week — but Memory Habit, as a thesis production, had a far lower budget. With that said, I admired how well Memory Habit utilized its limited budget.
Memory Habit mainly focuses on the suffering that Jewish people endured during the Holocaust and how that pain remains with survivors and their children, but it also looks at the ongoing ramifications of other horrors including the slave trade, the Armenian genocide, and Native American genocides. Clips from intellectuals who work in the field of transgenerational trauma, the main theme of the play, were shown at select moments in the play, including Joy DeGruy Leary, Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, and Holocaust survivors. At times, quotes from these clips were interpreted by the actors. It is a testament to the quality of the acting that I was drawn in by these quotations from books and lectures. Of course, the original work of these authors should not be overlooked, as their words were profound, thoughtful, and intriguing. I had not known of the concept of transgenerational trauma before this play, so learning about it was horrifying, yet enlightening. It greatly saddened me and scared me to learn that people's trauma from generations ago can still affect their descendants today.
The cast consisted of only two people, Matthew Sean Kirschner and Essence Stiggers, both of whom portrayed multiple characters. Their acting range was incredible; all of their different roles felt completely distinct from one another just through slight changes in the way they spoke and moved. They both conveyed the pain and torment felt by the Holocaust survivors and their descendents, as well as victims of other aforementioned horrors. In addition to Kirscher and Stiggers, the stage crew played a visible role in Memory Habit as they were visible while they made changes to the set. The stage crew did their jobs in a stoic and well-choreographed manner — which added to the somber tone of the play. In addition, I appreciate that the playwright put a spotlight on a group of hard-working individuals that do not receive enough credit for their work. Hoffer himself briefly joined the play when he played the guitar and sung beautifully in an impactful scene near the end, which served as a culmination of all the themes the story was building toward.
At the start of the play, only a microphone, table, and chair were on the stage with Stiggers and Kirschner. Behind the stage was a grainy projector which frequently displayed images related to the topics the duo were discussing. The stage crew and the actors occasionally hauled suitcases filled with dirt and dumped them onto the stage, cleverly transitioning the set into an outdoor setting. Toward the conclusion of the play, Kirschner portrayed a Jewish child who survived the Holocaust and later wrote a memoir about all that he endured. Kirschner’s portrayal was absolutely heartbreaking as he discussed the massacres of thousands of Jewish families, including his own; he was the only survivor. Later, he talked about how his Soviet kidnappers hung a mother and her two children after they were caught hiding a wounded Jewish man in an occupied village. This is only one of the moments that highlights Hoffer’s commitment to revealing the injustices of both the past and the present.
The play also addressed the Armenian genocide and how the U.S. and other powerful countries have avoided calling it a genocide out of fear of retribution from Turkey, as well as how Native Americans were killed and their children were kidnapped and raised to reject their culture and traditions. It also discussed more recent events such as the shooting of Antwon Rose and the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, and how they have affected the American people.
All in all, Memory Habit was an intriguing, informative, and heartbreaking play and definitely one that will stick with me for a while. I would recommend that you watch this play when given the chance and that you keep an eye on Eben Joondeph Hoffer, Essence Stiggers, and Matthew Kirschner. I believe that they will all make it big in the future.