Twelve Treatises On Memory: An Epistemological Slapstick With Sock Puppets

by John Crutchfield



Twelve Treatises is in essence a meditation on the nature of memory. The impetus for the play was when a former girlfriend of mine got married. Not to me, mind you; and that’s probably a good thing for us both. But the news still came as a kind of existential shock, and I handled it the only way I know how: by writing about it. Pretty quickly, though, the autobiographical stuff got purged away as the characters started to assert their own identities and their own story began to emerge.

The narrative “spine” of the play is fairly minimal: two former lovers meet again one night after many years apart, and while one (Beth) has apparently succeeded in “moving on,” the other (Mark) still struggles with the past, unable to come to terms with its pastness. Mark’s life, one might say, has ground to a halt, and he has come to Beth, his first love, seeking resolution and confirmation as to exactly what happened between them and why. Seeing each other brings up not only a lot of memories, but a lot of questions about memory. It becomes clear that both Mark and Beth are, for different reasons and in different ways, still bound to the past; but each has nurtured his or her own version of that history, and the collision of these two versions throws each into uncertainty. The play shows us their struggle to come to meaningful terms with that complicated past, and with each other in the present. In the end, Mark gets the resolution he wants, but the process plunges Beth into the volatility of a past she had till then succeeded in denying. And thus their roles are reversed.

Each of the twelve “treatises” might be thought of as a different moment in that conversation, and hence each should seem to stand on its own as a complete dramatic event. The juxtaposition and sequence of these events, however, renders them fragmentary and provisional in themselves. Thus, in terms of their argument, the treatises are really “attempts.”

The play consists of three distinct linguistic textures, corresponding to three distinct dramatic worlds: realism (prose), expressionism (lyric poetry), and absurdism (chatter). In the realistic scenes, it is primarily the characters’ ego-consciousness that emerges; in the poetic scenes, it is their “higher” consciousness; in the vaudeville scenes, their unconscious. The effect should be to destabilize the characters by illuminating their relation from various, and at times contradictory, psychological angles. In this regard, each scene might be thought of as representing a slightly aesthetic world–– serious, playful, tender, ironic, melancholy, lyrical, prosaic, etc.–– in which the characters discover different possibilities for communicating. But woven within these textures is also a recurring thread of silence. Twelve Treatises is as much a play about the relationship between speech and silence, movement and stillness, memory and forgetfulness, as about the relationship between these two individual people.


The first draft of the play was written in the summer of 2003, while I was living in Birmingham, Alabama. The play then premiered in workshop format in January, 2005 in a co-production between Jynormous Theatre Company and the Department of Theatre and Dance at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Laura Marshall and Derek Gagnier starred; I directed––with the actors’ help. The script went on to win First Prize in the 2005 New Adventures Playwriting Project at Odyssey Stage in Chapel Hill, NC. A staged-reading followed, directed by John Middlesworth and starring Thaddeus Edwards and Sarah Kocz. Joseph Keasler served as “reader.” After additional revision, I submitted the script for inclusion in the Catalyst Series at NCStage in Asheville, NC. This first full production was directed by the playwright, and starred Joe Sturgeon and Anne-Marie Welty.

Again I revised the script and submitted it to the 2008 New Play Festival of the Greensboro Playwrights' Forum, which it won. Jeffrey West directed a multiple cast in the 3rd Stage production which followed in May, 2008.