Dentonite Review: "Memento Homo"

“Memento Homo” is a one act play written and directed by Seth Knievel. The show ran March 27-31 in the UNT General Academic Building's Black Box Theater. The show tackles the subject of J. Edgar Hoover's closeted sexuality and explores the morality of his actions to protect his career.

The show's name has a double meaning to it. “Memento Homo” is both a play on the LGBTQ themes of the play and a reference to an ancient Roman tradition.

The program stated that “in ancient Rome, military leaders would be paraded through the streets after a major victory crowned by laurel wreaths. During this celebration, the man standing behind them would whisper ‘memento homo, memento homo, memento homo,’ which is Latin for ‘remember, ‘you are just a man’”. The term “memento homo” gives insight into the show's stance that Hoover was neither a villain nor a hero, but a man who was utterly human.

The show’s cast consisted of five characters: J Edgar Hoover (David Borella), Bobby Kennedy (Preston Tackett), Clyde Tolson (Hunter Lockett), and Helen Gandy (Sloan Scott). The performances given were solid; some scenes were so powerfully acted that they elicited emotional responses from the audience, especially during points of conflict between Hoover and Kennedy. However, there were multiple points where actors stumbled over their lines, which, while it didn’t ruin the performance, temporarily shifted the audience’s attention from the subject matter of the play.

Hoover and his staff were in definite conflict with Kennedy, but the show presented the moral ambiguity of both sides. “Memento Homo” may have shown the reasoning and excuses both sides had for their actions, but the show never excused them. While almost every action Hoover takes in the play is contextualized as Hoover protecting his career from the homophobic society that would condemn him had he ever come out of the closet, the show knows that these actions were not good.

There was even an experimental bit of audience participation where audience members were given sheets of paper to crumple and throw on stage when they felt a line had been crossed. Not only did this allow the audience to judge Hoover's actions themselves, but it was also a deep look into how morality differs from person to person.

While morally ambiguous elements shine through in the show, the two most prominent themes were politics using pre-existing prejudices in order to manipulate the balance of power and the unattainability of the American Dream for minorities, though the show kept its focus on LGBTQ struggles.

The themes were separately presented in two different character dynamics: political prejudice presented in the conflict between Hoover and Kennedy and the lie of the American Dream discussed in the relationship between Hoover and Tolson.

Both themes were brought together in a final monologue by Kennedy, in which he said “When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the person he loves, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others.”

“Memento Homo” gives a refreshing look at the roles prejudice plays in our society. It also reminds us that we are all human and there is no escaping that.

Header image courtesy of Seth Knievel.

Header designed by Clarissa Baniecki.