Review: ‘A Persistent Memory’ of humans and elephants.

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

NEW YORK NY - From the bedroom in Uganda to the nightclub in Manhattan, from the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee to a family house in Connecticut, life throws young philanthropist David (Drew Ledbetter) in places most random. As he investigates the change in the behavior of elephants in Uganda, which suddenly started attacking villages, he in fact is looking to connect with his own tragic past. His memory and perception of reality mess with him as David has difficulty remembering when things happened and if they happened at all. 

Is this just a defense mechanism against the childhood trauma, as his friend Elijah (Richard Prioleau) thinks or is he now broken forever and developing Alzheimer’s at an early age? David seems lost and scared. Out of nowhere, in the middle of the conversation fragments of his memories flash out and for a few seconds we see how a different character starts moving and drops a line or two in the back of the scene. All six actors are on stage all the time, silent witnesses to the unfolding scenes in front of them. People, or rather memories of them, they are always present and are just waiting for the light of David’s memory to fall on them, to make them talk. 

The scenic design by Parris Bradley features a row of enlarged elephant tusks elegantly dividing the stage like columns. This allows for the separation of the active memories (actual scenes) and the dark space in the deep end where characters await being brought to the light. The actors build modular furniture from wooden boxes between scenes. Watching the movements of their silhouettes against the brightly lit background screen is like watching a little ballet of very artistic and dreamy transitions. 

  photos by Russ Rowland

 photos by Russ Rowland

The moments in between the elephant tusks stop looking like a part of the interior and start to increasingly resemble a giant ribcage. The impression is haunting but even more than that it is strangely comforting; much like the elephant that has a reputation of a strong creature that is also intelligent and can be a great human companion. Elephants become dangerous only if they are traumatized, disturbed by inhumane treatment or unbalanced in their habitat by people’s activity. Elephants never forget, they remember violence forever. But even an animal, which suffered, is able to recover his compassion for humans. 

These, and many more facts, are told by a passionate expert in elephant rehabilitation, Kasem (Ariel Estrada). Learning from him and from a humanitarian activist Olivia (Victoria Vance) about elephant behavior, David will finally be able to face the elephant in the room of his own soul, so to speak. Will he be strong enough to move on after his losses? He sees examples in front of him of people dealing with their losses differently. Here is his father’s fiancé Marie (Lisa Bostnar), who lost her first husband but after ten years she is finally ready to move on. Here is Carly (Claire Warden), the self-destructive girl who causes the loss of precious things and people by herself, starting from blacking out in a nightclub and forgetting her violin.       

A Persistent Memory is a touching story about dealing with grief that comes after loss. The playwright Jackob G. Hofmann and the director Jessi D. Hill each did a wonderful job creating a world of a young man that is falling apart and Drew Ledbetter delivered the role convincingly. The rest of the cast of six supplied a strong counterpart to the main character and developed miniature stories of their own adding onto the meditation on memory, love and grief.   

A Persistent Memory is playing through June 19 on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7PM; Wednesday - Saturday at 8PM; Saturday matinee at 2PM; Sunday at 3PM. Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre is located at 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $49.50 and can be purchased by visiting or calling 212-239-6200. For more information, please visit,