Psychologists have known for a long time that serious trauma, such as that imprinted through violence and in wartime, can create mental and physical illness that can be passed down genetically through generations. But how this happens is still being understood. Just this week new research was released that shows that certain molecules, altered by traumatic stress and in turn causing depression and other effects, are transferred via sperm.

I became interested in inherited trauma while researching and writing my own memoir, which explores a legacy of being interrogated and my Jewish ancestors’ experience being hunted. How much is remembered in the cells? I have wondered, feeling many times as though I am wandering a kind of wilderness of loneliness, where that came from?

Lars Jan, with his Early Morning Opera lab and the versatile and emotionally sharp performances of Andrew Schneider and Sonny Valicenti, is hunting this ambiguous inheritance of trauma, too. In his multimedia memoir-on-stage, The Institute of Memory (TIMe), Lars is hot on the trail of an epigenetic mystery that centers around the mythology of his father. 

Lars’ father, a Polish immigrant named (maybe) Henryk Ryniewicz, is an enigma: a survivor of the Nazis, a Cold War operative, a body of secrets, a paranoid shadow of a man. To access the heart of his father, and therefore the heart of his own identity, Lars must rely on archives—those found in filing cabinets and computers and those in his own mind.

And so we enter a moving, at times jarring, exploration of what is memory. How is it altered by our now limitless digital archives? How is it limited by our own brains’ soft tissues and ultimate ambivalence?

“Whatever the truth is, this telling of it is inadequate.” 

There lies the pain of any memoirist.

Lars, oh Lars. (Exposing his search for belonging, his yearning to interrogate his own mythologies, made Lars so attractive to me that while I watched his story unfold five rows from the stage I felt a disturbing physical and emotional desire for him, an artist I have never met nor laid eyes on.) 

To a backdrop of typewriter keys slicing, Communist wiretaps humming, and cells gliding, Lars tries to piece together a family portrait. What came before me—don’t we all want to know?

He tries to recall his childhood home and instantly, magically, horribly, we are in the basement apartment near Harvard with him, with the random objects we remember, which push through the fog of memory in relief, the puncta of our childhood photographs: red wool blanket over twin bed, wheeled metal office chair, map of USSR, used paperback by Gore Vidal.

Yet all this remembering, or striving to remember, might be in vain. “There is a picture of a thing, and then there is living it,” Lars says. 

We are reminded: what seems picture-perfect one moment can erupt into an unimaginable hell in another. One moment you are living, the next, you are hunted. 

Throughout the performance Lars pushes down the neon white walls that recreate the boundaries of his father’s life and his own, metaphorically, cathartically perhaps, knocking his family’s house down. Toppling mythologies—the relentless hustle of an unsatisfied son.

He probes his father’s “darkness,” trying to break the code. 

“Perhaps, here I am, as Pandora, opening what I shouldn’t,” Lars confesses. (Oh, Lars.)

And in the end, where is Lars’ father? He is in files, in folders, in between sheets of paper and blankets of dust. He is in the soft tissues of a son’s body. The son cannot locate the father, but he rifles through the cabinets and gigabytes and tissues; he looks and he looks and he looks. 

 

Hope. Is that as important as breath to a child? Is Hope an elastic concept? Is Hope, qualified by reality, just hopeless? How does a child cope with life, when his/her father possesses a 'realistic amount of hope?' 

In The Institute of Memory (TIMe), Lars Jan, recalls his father and remakes him. He invites us to a discovery and then to his invention. Lars Jan seems to say that that recalling parents, our parents who lived with caution, who lived, marked by dread, we memorize them, only to erase and rewrite them. Maybe we want to imbue them with a hope they never professed. Maybe we want to gift them with a different life, in death, a life they never knew when they were alive. Yes, children too can resurrect their dead parents, make them saints, sinners or wave the magic wand of deep generosity and endow them with an infinite grace that they may not have known in life. 

It’s an infinitely touching and generous piece of work, that explores love between generations, love across times, love across space, a love that is archaeological in nature and restorative in spirit. Lars Jan brings his father to life, the man who is obscured himself, and ultimately vanished from his life. He gives himself his father, and to us. 

Lars Jan reconstructs his father, painstakingly, steadily, bit by bit, tissue by tissue, bone by bone, sadness by sadness, terror by terror, hope by hope, till the realistic amount of hope breaks all perimeters of realism, stretches all realities, past and present, and unleashes hope catapulting his father to a space where he glows like a star. 

Lars Jan, with the help of a superb and sparse set, a dense, staccato script, a superb companion on stage, who never leaves him, and the drum of a typewriter, has performed a rescue operation that casts a lie on Samuel Beckett’s “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new,” thus releasing his father, Henryk Ryniewicz from all boundaries of realism, all walls of confinement, to the glory of boundless possibility and infinite hope, peeling away all layers of obscurity into the incandescent density of essence and newness. 

Go join him on this journey, and see what you want to recover and make new. 

 

 

 

Posse - Kismet - a 2017 single on Saddle Creek.
Welcome to Best Bets, a weekly column in which The Oregonian's arts desk highlights selected theater, classical music and dance performances and visual arts events. Here are our picks for April 21-27. Amy Wang | The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/awang/index.html
Brother Ali - Pen to Paper - from the 2017 album All The Beauty In This Whole Life on Rhymesayers,
The Afghan Whigs - Demon in Profile - from the 2017 album In Spades on Sub Pop.
Actor and writer Roger Guenveur Smith created his one-man show, "Rodney King," to explore how the "first reality TV star" was more than just a symbol of police brutality. Smith performs "Rodney King" live for the last time in Portland, before it streams on Netflix, directed by Spike Lee. Kristi Turnquist | The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/kturnqui/index.html
Molly Burch - Wrong For You - from the 2017 album Please Be Mine on Captured Tracks.
Julie Byrne - Sleepwalker - from the 2017 album Not Even Happiness on Ba Da Bing!
Playwright Rob Handel drops some captivating characters into labyrinths of pretty much their own making. The play runs through May 13. Lee Williams | Special to The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/leewilliams1/index.html
Planning a trip to Crater Lake, one of Oregon's great natural wonders? Make sure you get there before 2050. Douglas Perry | The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/dperry/index.html
J GRGRY - Cave Birds - from the 2017 self-released EP Gold Teeth + Glass Eyes.
Welcome to Best Bets, a weekly column in which The Oregonian/OregonLive's arts desk highlights selected theater, classical music and dance performances and visual arts events. Here are our picks for April 14-20 Amy Wang | The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/awang/index.html
Froth - Romance Distractions - from the 2017 album Outside (briefly) on Wichita Recordings.
Ride - Charm Assault - from the 2017 album Weather Diaries on Wichita Recordings.
Happyness - Falling Down - from the 2017 album Write In on Bar/None.
Triangle Productions tackles a two-actor speculative drama, set in 2019, that games out a chilling scenario for President Donald Trump's controversial immigration policies. Lee Williams | Special to The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/leewilliams1/index.html
Portland Center Stage has announced its 30th anniversary season. Here's a look at what's coming to the two stages in the historic Armory building in the 2017-18 season. Amy Wang | The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/awang/index.html
Laika makes its movies using an old-fashioned technique called stop-motion animation. Mike Rogoway | The Oregonian/OregonLive http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/MikeRogoway/index.html
PWR BTTM - Big Beautiful Day - from the 2017 album Pageant on Polyvinyl Records.

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