The night of an election can be a scary time. After casting my ballot Tuesday morning, the last thing I wanted to do was stare at election results as the polls began to close. Providing a respite, UNCW Office the Arts and the Cucalorus Festival co-presented Theatre Re’s movement based play The Nature of Forgetting, a mesmerizing theatrical dive down the rabbit hole of memory, The Nature of Forgetting kept me captivated from the moment it began to its somber conclusion. It also happened to be the first time perhaps all week (all month? all year? all of my life?) that I wasn’t obsessing about poll numbers and pundit predictions. So, thanks for that, Theatre Re!

Theatre Re (as in reinvent or reveal) is a touring London-based theatre troupe whose work focuses on ensemble-based physical theatre. It’s a unique group, and seeing this kind of work outside of a major artistic hub like New York or London was a very special experience. The play follows Tom (expertly played by Artistic Director Guillaume Pige), who is suffering from the early stages of dementia. Interestingly, the play is all from his perspective, giving the audience a true glimpse into a mind with dementia. The sparse, and often intentionally inaudible dialogue, gave us hints as to the where and why of situations, but we were often left as confused as Tom. Tom’s daughter, Sophie (performed with great emotion by Louise Wilcox), is helping him get dressed for his birthday party, and it is this simple and mundane struggle of getting dressed that frames the narrative. But as anyone who has witnessed a loved one suffering from a brain degenerative disease can tell you, even the simplest tasks become herculean. Lost in the task of putting on a coat and tie, Tom’s memory is sparked when encountering clothes in his wardrobe. What we saw next was an artistic dive into how we form identity through memory and the struggle of living in the present when your mind is at war with itself.

In this ensemble-based play, the cast of four deftly changed between roles as Tom relived moments from his past while bouncing back and forth to the present. Each actor gave an impressive physical performance reminicant of an old Buster Keaton movie. The actors’ heavy focus on mime and precise physicalization helped create mesmerizing imagery and breathtaking cheorographed moments. The near gibberish of the actors’ dialogue broke through in moments with names and events that dropped hints about Tom’s life. It all came together (the music, the mime, the physicalization) to form an emotional and transcendent final moment.

The music, played live by Alex Judd and Chris Jones and composed by Alex Judd, elevated the play and created an overall immersive feeling. The almost constant music moveed between post-rock and jazz and at times disappeared into silence, creating a disparity between the vibrancy and wonder of Tom’s memories and the loss and loneliness of his life with dementia.

Naturally, the touring show had a simple set. Clothing racks were the most used and most visually interesting of the set pieces, the clothes themselves being used to distinguish between characters. Simple wooden tables and chairs created the world in Tom’s mind as they become a classroom, a dinner table, a wedding reception, and eventually a moving car in a particularly climactic sequence.

The play did feel a little eaten up by the large Kenan Auditorium, but the actors’ performances and moving music shone through. The play triumped as a meditation on the trials and absuridty of aging, but more than that (and this may be a little over the top), it succeeds (whereas many plays or pieces of art in general fail) as a thoughtful and engaging exploration of the entirity of the human experience.