As far as dramatic plots go, amnesia is a pretty threadbare device, utilized ad nauseam in television and film. Approached from a largely neural perspective, however, it's a fascinating phenomenon that bears a closer look.
About Productions' "Memory Rites," at 2100 Square Feet Theater, revolves around Mo (Rose Portillo), a video artist whose memory is wiped out by a massive head trauma. Stripped of personal experience, unable to recognize her brother Jerry (Gustavo Rex) or her mother, Joan (Anne Gee Byrd), Mo retains the vivid sensory impression that she is, first and foremost, an artist.
Inspired by an actual case history, the play, which was co-written by Portillo, Alan Pulver and Theresa Chavez, who also directs, is philosophically unwieldy at times. Making Joan an Alzheimer's sufferer is a risky and sometimes reiterative proposition. As a priest, the character of Jerry seems transparently devised to spark theological discussions. His homosexuality is an afterthought.
At other times, the writing is as pointed and well-reasoned as an Oliver Sacks essay, especially when it examines the pathology of Mo's condition. Jeremy Brooks and Douglas Lofstrom contribute superb original music, and Janice Tanaka's video segments, also seen in the lobby beforehand, are integral to the action. Though flawed, the play poses profound questions about identity and the human imperative to create.
* "Memory Rites," 2100 Square Feet Theatre, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 28, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends June 28. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Editor's note: Playwright-director Theresa Chavez is married to Daily Calendar Editor Oscar Garza.