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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Memory of Water
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Massachusetts

Also see Fred's review of Guys and Dolls

Memory of Water
Kristin Wold
The Memory of Water, at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, through September 4th is, on certain level, a play about three sisters who gather just before their mother's funeral in northern England. Written by Shelagh Stephenson in 1996, and now directed by Kevin Coleman, the script is involving, thoughtful, and carefully composed. The oftentimes incisive and sustaining production traverses a theatrical spectrum including antic comedy, anger, resentment, and affection.

Vi, the deceased mother played by Annette Miller, appears (evidently in ghostly fashion) at the very beginning of the show and then again later on. In fact, here is one wish that Stephenson had written fewer lines for her during her lengthy second act exchange with her eldest daughter, Mary (Corinna May).

Mary, at the outset, rests upon her mother's bed. A physician, she eventually greets her lover Mike (Nigel Gore), who happens be married. Mary will claim that she is pregnant but Mike explains he cannot be the man since he had a vasectomy. Mary drinks a bit but not as much as the middle sister, Teresa (Kristin Wold).

Teresa is a healthy life advocate who believes in homeopathy. A mixture of water with another remedy helps preserve, in theory, memory. See the title of this play. While Teresa is the responsible daughter, having tended Vi during her final days, Teresa is also unhappy. Yet, she has the presence to prepare to send a portion of Vi's wardrobe to a charity in Zimbabwe. Frank (Jason Asprey), arriving on the scene just before intermission, is a dutiful husband.

The actress with the stupendous comic chops, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, plays younger and most manic sister Catherine. Also the most desperate of the three, struggling and straining to find a man, the uninhibited Catherine seems unbothered, inappropriate, and sometimes whacked out in her own world of marijuana joints, flings with men (seventy-something partners?). It is Aspenlieder's Catherine who leads her sisters, atop their late mother's bed, in raucous song and jump-dance just before the first act closes.

During its first hour or show, Stephenson's play is exquisitely symmetrical with such fine balance. During its very first moments, the rectangular stage, set precisely be Patrick Brennan, is bathed in silence. No music, no words. Mary, understated and cerebral, is on the bed and Vi applies makeup at a table. The play begins and characters unfold. The act ends with the wildly exuberant trio of sisters performing with greatest gusto on the bed.

The second portion of Memory, informative as layers and years of family history are explicated, is a tad lengthy. Vi and Mary, even if the dialogue is important to plot development, go on and on and on. This is a relatively minor quibble as revelation provides some but not all answers to questions. Vi, alas, was not the quintessential mother—and this is just sad.

The Memory of Water, and in particular this production featuring an array of wonderfully skilled actors, will be recalled for the obvious rapport, repartee, and collective presence of its cast. Coleman, at the helm, has known members of this ensemble for years and some for a couple of decades. He has directed a few individuals previously and appeared as an actor, too, with some of the performers. The result is a fully realized production.

Corrina May, who carries with her something of a Diane Keaton look, has the most difficult job, perhaps, of embodying Mary. Mary is a bit haughty, disdainful, and initially understated. She is, however, as tortured as her siblings. Wold's Teresa is caught between her roles as the adhesive one who keeps things together—but she cannot resist the bottle. Further, she is unhappy. Aspenlieder, as mentioned earlier, flies. She is unabashedly joyful trying on one outfit after the next.

The fulcrum for the play is loss of a mother, but the interface between three complex sisters assuredly distinguishes The Memory of Water. The show continues at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through September 4th. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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