Dentonite Preview: “Memento Homo”

Few people know much about former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, aside from his scandals and his role in attempting to suppress the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Writer and Director Seth Knievel and Assistant Director Michelle Wingard delve deeper into J. Edgar Hoover and the 1960s society which shaped him in their show,Memento Homo.”

The show aims to give audiences a more in-depth look into J. Edgar Hoover and his closeted homosexuality within the context of the political theatrics of the 1960s and our current political climate. The primary focus of the show, however, is Hoover's political quest to remain in the closet and in power. Memento Homo allows its audience to see Hoover as a human being and sympathize with his struggle without agreeing with him or even believing he is a good person. In the show there is no real good guy, and it leaves the audience dealing with a bleak ending and no real semblance of a happy one, either. The show also asks its audience to think about to what extent they blame Hoover and the society that shaped him.

Knievel and Wingard stressed that in no way are they trying to defend any of Hoover's actions or stances in the show.

“Something that we're really concerned about is that people might think we're trying to defend Hoover,” Knievel said. “What we're trying to do is analyze Hoover in his political context and in the context of the society which he was trying to keep his power in. In no way are we trying to discount the [Hoover’s] victims or the experiences they had to go through.”

With this show, Knievel and Wingard hope to ignite a conversation within our current society. Wingard stated, “Everything is so polarized right now and politicians are working off of our fears.”

Knievel commented: “We really want to connect people who disagree. It's like with the anti-vax movement — we all don't agree with them. But the problem with our political theater is that people don't stop and try to understand those who they disagree with. If we can meet them where they are, one of two things are likely to happen. They will either be more likely to listen to us and our positions, or you might just change your mind.”

Another theme within the show is the political use of fear and prejudice, which is exemplified by the line in the show, “Politics use people's prejudices to strengthen their own power.” This line connects the political setting of the 1960s in “Memento Homo” with politics now.

Knievel was first inspired to write the show after researching Hoover for a presentation for a club he was in. Hoover interested Knievel even after the presentation, so he kept researching.

“What I found interesting was that people talk about his various politics and scandals, but it seems like no one talks about his sexuality,” Knievel stated. Although Knievel's opinion on Hoover has fluctuated, he finds himself somewhat sympathetic toward Hoover: “I sometimes wonder if I didn't come out of the closet, would I have ended up like him? I think that if he had come out of the closet, he would have definitely lost his power, but I think he would have kept some of his morality.” Knievel also remarked that this show can be read as a cautionary tale for both those in the closet and a society that mirrors the one that kept him there.

“The story is about other people, but that does not mean we are not a part of the story,” he said. “Many minorities are still oppressed. So when you're watching, watch for you and the people who play a part in that oppression too.”

The show premieres on March 27 and will be showing through March 31 at Communication Studies Black Box in GAB 321. Tickets can be reserved starting March 18 with a $5 donation at GAB 309.

Header image courtesy of Seth Knievel.

Header by Kylie Phillips.