The Memory Show, book and lyrics by Sara Cooper, music by Zach Redler. Directed by Joe Calarco.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Leslie Kritzer and Catherine Cox; photo: Kevin Sprague
Leslie Kritzer; photo: Kevin Sprague
"Each day fewer memories. . .where do they go?"
The scope: from the instant this show starts you know the territory it charts. Pathways to the heart of the matter; characters who know the patter that brings them no relief and sets them up for encroaching grief. A mother and daughter in an apartment neither one knows as "home" and from which neither can ever roam, and each of them so very smart, pent up emotions and release their only hope.
This is the territory and the style of "The Memory Show," a new musical at Barrington Stage Companyís Stage Two theater in Pittsfield, MA. Written by a very young team (young in their collaboration and young in years as well) it is a poignant, sometimes funny, often heart-rending musical for only two players, the mother and the daughter, who juggle and fight over memories held close and held onto desperately by both. When they conflict in their memories the eternal fight is on, but when they agree on things then a purity in their relationship flares into being. In either direction from the daily norm, the journey is worthwhile, especially as directed by Joe Colarco.
Alzheimerís informs the text, but the sub-text is older than any disease: it is the difficult relationships that exist between two people who have never been totally honest with one another. Mother claims to have a secret; daughter has heard that before. There is a lack of trust between them over this issue. It turns out that Mom really does harbor a secret and she spills the beans into her childís lap before the evening ends and while it may not change everything, it opens up new channels of communication where most channels are rapidly shutting down.
Catherine Cox is brilliant as Mother. Roaming through a wonderfully conceived set designed by Brian Prather, she settles in nowhere and yet is somehow consumed by her surroundings at almost every turn. Her growing confusions and her lucid, sensitive moments are touching even when we cannot like or enjoy the character she plays. She is hateful and spiteful and loving and caring, sometimes all at once and Cox navigates those shallow waters like sailor used to blind nights.
Leslie Kritzer is alive on stage in the role of Daughter. Her singing is strong and acted as much as it is sung. Her acting is exquisite. We can feel everything she feels, sense everything she touches, respond with her because she allows us alongside her. There is something rather catastrophic about her face and her hands. They seem to grip you, hold you too close. Itís a fabulous technique this actress has of engaging with a strong look, locking in on your reactive sensibilities. When she faces off with Mother, with Cox, you can literally feel the walls rumble.
This is not a show where you go out singing the hit songs. Even so the music is traditional and strong and lovely and the lyrics are rhymed, make sense and are accessible to the ear first time out. You donít need to know the concept album in advance. You donít need to read the words. You just need to hear the songs to know the songs.
Among the best of the fifteen or so musical selections "Davidís Smile" is a lovely song, one Iíd like to hear again. The argument piece "You Remember Him Wrong" is another winner. Daughterís introduction number "Single Jewish Female Seeks Man" is a delight and "Iím Unlovable," an aria for Mother, is a moving experience, especially with the monologue that goes along with it. The talent shines in the writing and both Zach Redler, composer, and Sara Cooper, lyricist, are to be commended, applauded, sent on to the next project immediately. We want more from a team that can pen a winner like "You and Me, Toilet." Really. That's the title. I loved it. Talk about trends: this is the third new show this week to deal with aging parents in an uncomfortable family situation, the other two being Theresa Rebeckís new play "The Novelist" at the Dorset Theatre Festival (seen on Wednesday), "A Song For My Father," by David Budbill (seen last night) at Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, and now "The Memory Show," in Pittsfield for Barrington Stage Company. I am weak with emotion, touched deeply and differently by all three. But this one is a musical. I am partial to musicals and catharsis runs deeps in my family genes, and musicals make crying palatable. See them all, but save this one for last. Itís a hard topic with a hard resolution, but it sings. How it sings.
The Memory Show plays through August 29 at BSC Stage Two, at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888.