Memento Mori | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Memento Mori 

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Live Bait Theater.

Northwestern University pathologist F. Gonzalez-Crussi has tried to bridge the ever-widening gulf between art and medicine. In his essays, employing a style he calls "medical magical realism," he conducts literary autopsies, discussing death both clinically and artfully, with "one hand holding the scalpel, the other the pen." But however insightful Dr. Gonzalez-Crussi's meditations may be on paper, onstage they fall flat. And as the good doctor knows, though in the real world death may remain a mystery, in the theater it is unkindly final.

Sharon Evans and Valerie Olney's Memento Mori, 12 variations on the theme of death adapted from Dr. Gonzalez-Crussi's essays, employs no end of visual gimmicks: shadow play, puppets, experimental films. But for the most part the trickery does little more than point up the lack of theatricality in the writing. Many of the speeches remain irritatingly in the passive voice and sound more like lectures than monologues. Several of the attempts at profundity ("Love is pathology," for example, and "Death does not exist in Chicago") feel pompous and forced.

The intriguingly mystical portions of this Live Bait piece are often marred by average or substandard staging and acting. Preening, unctuous performances distract from a compelling remembrance of Eva Peron's corpse, and ambiguously designed puppets make a serene danse macabre of body parts look suspiciously like a ballet performed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez's marital aids. With not even the skeleton of a plot to support the literary conceits, Live Bait's Memento Mori remains a moribund 90 minutes of theater.

--Adam Langer

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