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Theater Review (NYC): TRACES/fades by Lenora Champagne

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I did not have a chance to write this review of TRACES/fades, the second show of the Ice Factory festival, until a week after its premiere. As I began to try to recall the play for this review, I began to fully appreciate its point about how the loss of memory robs us of our vitality and makes us shed some of our distinctly human qualities. Yet I don’t think it was writer/director Lenora Champagne’s intention to emphasize that point by creating a play that was so forgettable.

TRACES/fades is the kind of show that gives experimental theater a bad name. Certainly, fragmented memory and displaced humanity are material ripe for the avant-garde. But instead of taking a turn towards dada, or even towards the theater of cruelty, this play comes across as a lazy, whiny think piece. TRACES/fades’ manipulations are painfully obvious, and its lack of notable dramatic development is more a drag than a thought-provoking device. However worth exploring the themes of TRACES/fades may be, it will take a much more intelligent, creative treatment than what Champagne has produced to give a complete theatrical expression.

The play centers on three generations of females, Ann (Joanne Jacobson), the grandmother with the fading memory, her daughter Claire (played by the playwright, Lenora Champagne), who is a leftist political operative, and granddaughter Rose (Amelie Champagne Lyons), named after Ethel Rosenberg, and trying to rediscover her grandmother’s past. Champagne clumsily weaves scenes of Rose and Claire’s poorly rendered mother-daughter relations, Rose assisting her grandmother, and Ann at the nursing home where she is carefully assigned. All these scenes feature abstract dialogue that wavers between non-magical realist melodrama and dream play extravagances. These scenes would be much better off if Champagne picked one atmosphere or the other.

TRACES/fades Lenora ChampagneThere are also moments when the actors speak directly to the audience, usually in speeches about politics, feminism, and global warming. There’s also the occasional singing of an anti-war song. The transitions between the more realistic scenes and the fanciful are poorly executed, a product both of the script and of Champagne and Robert Lyons’ co-direction. The use of a giant, continuously changing video in the background distracts more than it assists the flow of the production, even though its faded images are an obvious stand-in for the loss of memories.

The overwhelming video display suggests that for what Champagne has in mind, TRACES/fades might be better suited for an art gallery than for the theater. The play is stuffed with enough imagery, mixed media, and vague thematic allusions to make a fascinating gallery exhibit. What it lacks is cogent drama, which is a death knell for even an hour-long theatrical work. No matter how crucial the topic matter may be, TRACES/fades is an insufferable work of theater that is more likely to have you block it out of your memory than to make you think about memory itself.


TRACES/fades ran from 7/16-7/19 as part of the Soho Think Tank's Ice Factory Festival '08, which runs through 8/23. Written and directed by Lenora Champagne. Music by Daniel Levi. Video by Lauren Petty and Shaun Irons. Production design by Liz Prince.

Tickets for remaining Ice Factory Festival shows can be purchased here.

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About Ethan Stanislawski

  • http://cobac.blog.com Ali Saadat

    Dear Ethan;
    enjoyed so much and success for future.