Arts theater review

This memory is corrupt

A production about trying to regain order over our lives, and realizing that it’s just as confusing as our past

Directed by Andrew Schneider
MIT Performing
Nov. 9–11

Lights blared. Sound blasted. Darkness fell. A pre-show was delivered. Two minutes passed. Faint outlines hovered in front. Then, things got weird. Performers stood, lined up like soldiers. A deep rhythm vibrated the stage itself, and these nameless actors began to convulse alongside this invisible force. Nothing made sense; reason and time had no place quite yet. It was as if we were witnessing the inner workings of the mind itself. This was NERVOUS/SYSTEM, the most recent performance by MIT’s Music and Theater Arts Department (MTA).

If you’re looking for a narrative to pull you along, turn away. This is not a show of words; it’s one of motion. The stage was ruled by the technical aspects: lights forced one scene to blend into another; rolling set pieces bled into one collective scene; and projections cut away to a beautiful scene of the universe. We do get some scenes of interest, though. The main character, who remains nameless, is shown to be receiving some sort of therapy from another person. But this person is surreal in his mannerisms, strange in his advice. Instead of advocating self-care, these mysterious personages bait the main character, goading him to appeal to darker, more impulsive emotions.

At least, this is one interpretation of the countless facets of the performance. Never offering to explain scenes or even slow down its pace, NERVOUS/SYSTEM expects complacency from its audience; this is both its strongest and weakest aspect. You are swept up in this orgy of light and sound and feel lost. Other times, the performance remembers to include the audience in its story and opens up to reveal tender moments. These passing memories, depicted by more nameless characters, capture this performance’s strength. No technical aspects are used here, save for soft backing tracks or mood lighting. Shout-outs go to the production value. I was left in awe as a projector hanging from the ceiling illuminated something beautiful onto the stage floor. We saw stars. They flowed through the stage to form a swirling galaxy, one of deep blues.

Smaller moments pockmark this hour-long performance. Scenes such as a couple falling in love bring the performance a little bit closer to home. Sure, there is often no reason nor rhyme as to why certain events played out. But it’s these intimate looks into the human condition that NERVOUS/SYSTEM cherishes. It was as though we were peering into the chaos that is our memories. Just like it, scenes play on repeat; actions are copied again and again ad infinitum until memories become as corrupted as data does. As narratively confusing as it was (if you can even say that there was a narrative), the show was a visual treat — a tangle of scenes that somehow added up to a performance.