‘Berg Mnemonic Festival illuminates the virtual stage with “Far Away”

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"Far Away" poster art; Image courtesy of Scott Snyder & The Muhlenberg Department of Theatre & Dance

The next installment of Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance’s Mnemonic Festival was “Far Away,” a play by Caryl Churchill, which was directed by Marlee Schulman ‘21. The play made its debut on Sunday, Mar. 28, and continued its screenings through Tuesday, Mar. 30.

The project had a sprawling creative team, the majority of which was composed of students. Faculty involvement on the creative team was mostly as advisors to some of the more involved positions, such as director and costume designer.

From the very beginning of this production, viewers are thrust into the action, as the main character Joan, played by Nicola Ferro ‘23, is unable to sleep after realizing that her uncle is taking part in suspicious behavior. Joan explains what she has just seen to her aunt Harper, played by Jessica Bice ‘21, and receives some answers, cluing her into the fact that there were secrets related to a resistance. Harper eventually replied,”You’re part of a big movement now to make things better.”

As Joan grows older, the audience sees this aforementioned society at play. As she finds herself working in a hat factory alongside Todd, played by Elliot Ohnmacht ‘21, the dynamic between the two becomes a driving force in this emotionally moving production.

“Over quarantine I spent some time learning about the nuances of Zoom theatre and getting to know Joe Exotic,” says Schulman, in the director’s note. “In December, I found out about the Mnemonic Festival, which had one overarching theme: memory and the act of remembering. I was drawn to ‘Far Away’ because it shows what happens when you choose to forget, or you are forced to forget.”

One of the biggest drawing factors about this performance was its considerable attention to detail when creating realistic soundscapes, which goes beyond just its descriptive musical choices. For instance, when night had fallen on the opening scene, there was an ambient sound of crickets chirping which underscored the gentle, yet sincere tone of the scene. 

Additionally, the videography staff used an array of interesting camera angles and transitions in their presentation of scenes which added even more gravity to the stakes of impactful moments. One scene was even filmed outdoors, with the discomfort of the Judge’s (Jacob Roach ‘24) interactions with the ensemble captured behind crescendos of symphonic classical music. Closeups were used to highlight the unique facial expressions of each ensemble member, consisting of: Lili Daskais ‘23, Bari Dershowitz ‘21, Philippa Edstrand-Hearn ‘21, Gabby Gutt ‘21, Kayla Hartman ‘24, Isabel Molettieri ‘23, Ava Pirie ‘23, Alexandra Whittington ‘22 & Christine Zak ‘23.

“At a time when there is so much chaos and pain in the world, it’s surprisingly easy to remain a bystander. Over the past year I’ve learned that every person can make a difference — from donating to a charity to sharing resources online to marching in protests. It’s easy to think that we have plenty of time to act before the world is out of our control,” says Schulman, in the director’s note. “The most concrete example against this is the limited time we have left to avert the climate crisis. Far Away reminds me to pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and to act before it’s too late — if it’s not too late already.”

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