Memory Play

Carla Harryman

1994 • 72 pp. • $9.50
ISBN: 188202222X
Out of Print

What makes theater different from “real conversation”? When something is designated a memory (i.e. testimony), is that something more “real” or is it more “theater”? These are some of the questions that the character Reptile poses at the beginning of the play. After a number of provocation conversations with the likes of Pelican, Fish, Instruction, and the Miltonic Humiliator, it becomes clear that the line which we assume divides the two levels of the sentence (the real and the theatrical, the truth and the lie) has dissolved: memory encompasses both simultaneously. Once a memory enters into language, it becoms theatricalized, a construction for the purposes of presentation, that both the listener and the speaker believe to be real. Memory Play provides a lively platform from which to examine the moral and political implications of such poetic processes. (Traffic #18, Winter 1996)
–Jena Osman

“Going to a reading by Carla Harryman is to confront a room full of enraptured writers. The more one understands the craft’s intimacies, the deeper the appreciation of her discoveries. Unlike her prose, Carla’s plays seem to have a constant shift of purpose–at one turn the audience is invited into a whirlwind exploration of hierarchies through the mouths of Bosch-like talking animals. Around the next bend we are abandoned like old employees sitting around in the swamp. Just when all seems lost it is the author, herself who comes to our rescue, riding a silver steed of breathtaking explanation”.
–Sarah Schulman

“Suppose you had a dream life and woke up not a person interested in telling as a story what you could recall of it as it could be translated and tricked into the words and images of a narrative that made sense by referring to the things of this world as your interlocutor knows them as well as you do but woke rather or also as a polyvocal congruence much as the clouds and birds in flight make sense to that visionary in you that doesn’t mean anything until you find yourself looking back at its patterns and wondering through it. They are you in this world. Perhaps that is how you will read Memory Play.”
–Steve Benson


CARLA HARRYMAN is the author of twelve books of poetry, prose plays, and essays, most recently the Essay Press publication Adorno’s Noise, two experimental novels, Gardener of Stars (2001) and The Words: after Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories and Jean-Paul Sartre (1999). Harryman teaches in the Department of English at Eastern Michigan University and is on the faculty of the Milton Avery School of the Arts Graduate Program at Bard College.


A bedtime story/conversation in a little tent town out in the salt flats.
If I tell you one thing that i remember, you will
think I’m an idiot for remembering only one
thing. This is one thing that makes theater
different from real conversation. If I provide you
with several of my most esteemed memories, you
will probably believe there are more where those
came from, and I will have earned your respect.
This will make theater a little more like real
I have a job and it is virtually all I can think
about; however, I think this: memory is nothing
but words stored up in an efficient computer.
What you will remember of this conversation
will be nothing like what went into its
construction. Such understanding promotes
success in business. I know that people want to
see the tip of the iceberg only. Business is like a
successful cabaret.