Having a great memory is not always a great thing in D.W. Gregory’s new play

Amie Bermowitz and Steve Brady in “Memoirs of a Forgotten Man” at NJ Rep through Sept. 15. (PHOTO: Andrea Phox)

What if you had the ability to remember everything that had ever happened to you. Everything you observed, heard, read — everything — would it be a good thing or a bad thing?

“Memoirs of a Forgotten Man,” an intriguing new play at the New Jersey Repertory Theater on Broadway in Long Branch through Sept. 15, explores what happens to a family with a son who has this skill at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Written by D.W. Gregory, her best known play is “Radium Girls” about factory workers exposed to radiation poisoning from painting watch dials in an Orange, N.J., factory. 

This play is based on the 1968 book “The Mind of a Mnemonist:  A Little Book about a Vast Memory,” by Soviet psychologist A.R. Luria about one of his clients.

The two-act  play takes place in Russia. Scenes move between Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s, a time of political repression, police surveillance, executions and jailed  enemies, and (Nikita) Khrushchev’s Thaw (after Stalin’s death) in the 1950s-‘60s when repression and censorship were eased and millions of political prisoners released. 

From left, Steve Brady, Benjamin Satchel, Andrea Gallo and Amie Bermowitz in D.W. Gregory's "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" playing at NJ Rep, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, August 15 thru September 15. (PHOTO: Andrea Phox)
From left, Steve Brady, Benjamin Satchel, Andrea Gallo and Amie Bermowitz in D.W. Gregory’s “Memoirs of a Forgotten Man”  Long Branch. (PHOTO: Andrea Phox)

All four seasoned actors, under the deft direction of James Grossman, play multiple roles by adding a hat or a shawl to their wardrobe. A few times there was some confusion over who and when, but not enough to derail continuity. And there are numerous laughs.

Soviet journalist Alexei (Benjamin Satchel) has the dubious gift of total recall and the bad habit of correcting people who mention citizens and events Stalin wants erased. He also plays the Amazing Azarov, an entertainer who finally tames his memory, when Khrushchev is in power. 

His older anti-Stalin brother Vasily (Steve Brady) tries to stop him from  from writing the truth for his own protection, but to no avail. He also plays Kreplev, a government censor seeking Alexei in the post-Stalin era.

Andrea Gallo plays four characters, including the brother’s mother. She thinks Vasily is is too hard on his younger brother.  She’s also is clueless that her neighbor Natalya (Amie Bermowitz) who brings her hard-to-get food treats, is spying on the family and reporting to the government. 

Bermowitz also plays Madame Demidova, a psychologist with secrets. Too many, in fact, it is hard to get a good grip on her motives. She says she helping Alexie, not transforming him. 

He fears his brain is filling up and is in desperate need of a delete button.  His reality is not the reality of others. Now that’s something we can grasp these days.

The New York Times called Gregory “a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke.” If that’s your cup of Samovar tea, this show is for you.

New Jersey Repertory Theater, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Performances Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets $50. Call   732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org