Tangles and Plaques at the Neo-Futurists, a Neo-Lab commission about the effects of dementia first seen in Fall of 2017, has returned for a three-week engagement at the Neo-Futurarium. Sourcing its name from Plaques and Tangles, deposits of protein that cause cell damage and death in the brain, Tangles and Plaques attempts to translate dementia into the language of theatre. This is inherently successful in the structure of the play. Sections of the script are repeated and intentionally disorient the audience. Neos ensemble member and creator of the piece Kirsten Riiber wrote the show based on her work in reminiscence therapy at a local retirement home. Reminiscence therapy is used to conjure the most relevant and clear memories to an aging person, those from their childhood. Therefore the meat of the show takes place in the “accumulated nostalgia-scape of seven artists on a budget.”
A memory, they assert, is alive, and they pull the viewer into not only the ensemble’s memories but their own. This nostalgia-scape consisted of some of the most striking collective memories the millennial generation has, such as Skip its, Ribbon Dancing, and Britney Spears. There is a wonderful tactile moment where the ensemble sprays axe body spray into the air and it did invoke sense memories in the audience. Ida Cuttler does the most serious and intentional Macarena the world may ever see in this show. In true Neo-Futurist fashion, audience members are invited to the stage to offer their memories as content for the show, making for the kind of fun authentic involvement one can only find a the Neo-Futurarium.
In terms of design, ensemble member Jen Ellison has stretched the capacity of the Neo-Futurists space and style, using every possible aspect of the space to tell this story. Practical lamps litter the world, illuminating various sections of the play space that are away from the stage. As they honed in on some of the more personal relationships to dementia, the lighting goes from bright washes to flashlights and spotlights, giving the audience a sense of fractured thought and fear. Though the end of play feels somewhat unfinished, there may be no way to effectively finish a play that is about an ongoing and frightening affliction that affects so many people.
The set consists of projections and a what could be described best as an altar to the 90s taking centerstage. The performers, each more talented than the last, wear nostalgic Lisa Frank and Darth Vader shirts. One of the greatest things about seeing the Neo-Futurists is the sense of great personal sacrifice and reveal they invest in their work. It gives the feeling of being involved in their rehearsal process, and it means they treat this sensitive subject matter with great care. A sensory, immersive, electric experience, Tangles and Plaques is worth your time.
Tangles and Plaques runs at the Neo-Futurarium (5153 N. Ashland) until September 29th.
Creator: Kirsten Riiber
Director: Jen Ellison
Photos: Joe Mazza
Stage and Production Manager, Multimedia Designer: Kate Hardiman
Set Designer: John Ross Wilson
Technical Director: Daniel Staggs
Sound Designer: Alex Kliner
Associate Lighting Designer: John Kelly
Memory Care Consultant: Alex Schwaninger
Assistant Director: Brita Thorne
Assistant Stage Manager: Spencer Meeks
Contributing Writer: Kaitlyn Andrews
Ensemble: Kiirsten Riber, Kaitlyn Andrews, Ida Cuttler, Justin Deming, Michael Hamilton, Nick Hart, Dan Kerr-Hobert