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A CurtainUp Review
The Memory Show
Joe Calarco, who helmed it previously, manages to keep the potential for stasis for a musical two-hander like this at bay, directing Catherine Cox and Leslie Kritzer to play this mother and daughter with much sensitivity. Though far from flawless overall, The Memory Show has some genuinely moving moments and lyrics that put an affectionate lasso around this all too increasingly visible disease.
The little show with the big theme began its life at Barrington Stage’s Musical Lab in 2010. Elyse Sommer, who reviewed the still in development work and found it a promising musical that brought to mind the Tony Award-winning Next to Normal that was then running on Broadway and eyeing a national tour. ( The Barrington Stage Review ) While I missed this earlier production, I can vouch for the current staging’s having gained sturdier stage legs since its Massachusetts tryout. Sarah Cooper's lyrics and the acting remain the strong cards. Catherine Cox and Leslie Kritzer are reprising the roles they created with much sensitivity. Like Elyse, I was impressed with the way the lyrics allow you to glimpse a 62-year-old mother in the early stages of the disease.
Zach Redler's music falls into the "new music" genre that's too dissonant for those to whom musical theater means stick-to-the-ears, toe-tapping tunes. But then Alzheimer's isn't exactly suited to that kind of music. Fortunately both actors are fine singers as well as actors and many audience members will be disarmed by Cox’s opening number, “Who’s The President of the United States.” She sings it at the lip of the stage and will win you over as she colors it with frustration and honesty. Kritzer is at her ever-loving best with her paean to daughterhood, “I’m Her Apple.” Redler’s music also gets a fine hearing as played by the small live band playing on the edge of the stage (Vadim Feichtner/piano & conductor, Yuiko Kamakari/violin, Anik Oulianine/cello, Harry Hassel/clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, flute).
Cooper is less successful with her book, especially when the 31-year-old daughter confides to her mother about searching for a boyfriend on match.com and later goes on to explain why her last love interest fizzled out. There’s nothing wrong with the daughter wearing her heart on her sleeve here. The problem is that these scenes don’t organically mesh with the rest of the musical.
The road taken by the daughter is hardly romantic, but it is a loving one. Naturally she will be torn this way and that as the mother’s condition gradually deteriorates. And though the daughter isn’t losing her mental acuity, she is giving up a lot, considering that she is in the prime of life and hopes to find a compatible partner who she can hopefully marry and raise a family with.
It’s no accident that Cooper leaves her two characters un-named, giving them the generic moniker “Mother” and “Daughter.” It seems a subtle reminder that Alzheimer’s is a disease that feeds on the general population, and can intrude on any family’s well-being in a blink.
The Memory Show is yet another musical to bring serious themes to the musical theater. It's moving and unsettling to see a mother here who is slowly regressing into a second childhood and watching watching the reversal of mother-and-child roles. The daughter, in essence, steps into the mother’s role, and vice versa. By far, one of the most touching moments of the evening is when the daughter realizes, and accepts, that her mother is no longer herself but only a shadow of herself.
Brian Prather, who also designed the Barrington Stage set, aptly features a multitude of photographs to line the hallways of the mother’s apartment. You can’t discern any of their details but they suggest a visual chronicle of the lives of the mother, daughter, and their absent family and friends. This picture gallery serves as a powerful metaphor and, as illuminated by Chris Lee’s lighting, it points up what is missing from the corridors of the mother’s mind.
Kathryn’s Rohe’s costumes are very apropos. Whether it’s the mother’s paper gown at the doctor’s office or just the ordinary clothes that the women schlep around the apartment in, Rohe’s outfits are no-frills but appropriate..
Cox plays the Mother with a tough veneer that gradually gives way to vulnerability. Leslie Kritzer, as the daughter, brings a different kind of vulnerability to her part. As the only daughter in a Jewish family who feels that heritage strongly . She no longer fasts on Yom Kippur but can't say no to this thorny situation. No, you won't go out humming. Obviously this isn't light entertainment, but it is an intimate heart tugger.