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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Daly plays the newly widowed Victoria named Victoria. On the occasion of her late husband Franklin's memorial service she decides she's not equipped to let go, much less start anew.
So, with 250 guests and a musical trio waiting on the lawn below, she retreats to the attic of her picturesque Connecticut home (the design of which by Tony Fanning is the play's singular highlight). There, she dusts off a few records, sorts through a trunk or two and converses with her dead husband (Robert Forster).
Victoria is joined periodically by her devoted son Mason, who organized the memorial service. Mason would very much like his mom to come down and join the event, but is understanding enough not to push. A physics professor engaged to an astronaut, Mason is going through a crisis of his own which he selfishly sees fit to dump on his mama during the occasion of her grief. In a very thin way, Mason sees his mother as part of what broke up his relationship.
As constructed by Ravetch, "crisis" and "problem" seem like misnomers for what Mason is experiencing. By the end of the 90 plotless and pointless minutes, these difficulties have almost magically worked themselves out and Victoria (spoiler alert!) is ready to leave her attic. In the meantime, mama and son and mama and dead husband engage in rounds of kibitzing, bantering, gossiping and funny line-ering that feels like it's been lifted from a moldering first draft of an early Neil Simon work. When the characters are not cracking wise (or in Victoria's case, cracking sad), the music kicks in.
No, make that the music eases in. . .from Victoria's trusty record player or from the live trio (Thomas Griep, Stefanie Fife and Geoff Nudell) who have been hired to play at Franklin's service. When they play a musical refrain, it's an occasion for someone to sing a little bit or share a nostalgic ghostly waltz.
The memorial musicians know all of Franklin and Victoria's favorite songs, all of which contain lyrics by the husband and wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (presumably Chasing Mem'ries' other starry draw). The play has bits of 10 songs by six composers including Bill Cantos and Mari Falcone, and frequent Team Bergman musical partners Dave Grusin, Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Legrand and Johnny Mandel.
Five of the songs are new. Others like "Little Boy Lost," "Where Do you Start?" and "What Matters Most" have been recorded by Barbra Streisand, Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Mathis. Whether working as composers, lyricists or both, the Bergmans have been expertly plying their craft (primarily for film and TV) for decades, making a lightweight tale of love and loss every bit in their wheelhouse. The entire score falls easy on the ears and none of the songs feel shoehorned in. Ravetch is not quite shameless enough to make anybody actually sing "The Way We Were," although we do hear a few bars.
I don't know what is supposed to make Chasing Mem'ries, a differnet kind of musical, other than the fact that its three cast members are largely talk-singing. Robert Forster (who plays Franklin) seems comfortable if not hugely confident working through the music. Scott Kadolfer's Mason is on surer ground, and anyone who saw Daly blow the roof off as Mama Rose in Gypsy back in 1980 knows what she can still do when the band strikes up.
Ravetch's play places no such taxing demands, musical or dramatic, on any of its players, requiring Daly (who never leaves the stage) to grin wryly, deliver her funny lines and occasionally look sorrowful. All of this, she does convincingly and with minimal effort.
Daly's Victoria and Forster's Franklin make for a congenial enough couple, but how much spark can anybody wring out of husband and wife who, as far as this story goes, seemed perfectly matched and never had a single barbed moment in their 57 years together. So even in death, he will always be there for her, but he also thinks that she needs to move on. Well and good, but that's a Hallmark card, not the basis for shelling out up to $90 per ticket.
It can't save the play, but Fanning's rendering of the family home is quite marvelous. He has created a high arching colonial with a section of the top cut out to expose the attic. Blending with lighting designer Daniel Ionazzi's autumn hues, Fanning establishes a setting that one wishes the Geffen could re-use again for a future production. That memory of that magnificent set may not fade quickly. Ravetch's play, on the other hand, is not one for the diaries.
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Written and directed by Josh Ravetch
Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Cast: Tyne Daly, Robert Forster, Scott Kradolfer
Costume Design: Kate Bergh
Scenic Design: Tony Fanning
Lighting Design: Daniel Ionazzi
Music Director/Orchestrator: Thomas Griep
Production Stage Manager: Jill Gold
Sound Designer: Jonathan A. Burke Plays through December 17, 2016 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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