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|A CurtainUp Review
I Can't Remember Anything and The Last Yankee
After seeing the Signature's second offering in its Arthur Miller season in its next-to-last preview performance, I was reminded of Les Gutman's August DC Report (See links at end of review) which centered on a theme of Connecting In An Isolated Age. The three pairs of men and women we meet in the plays that make up this double bill have lived connected lives for many years without ever managing to really connect with one another. In the case of I Can't Remember Anything, (a collaboration between Miller and the director for both plays, Joseph Chaiken), the failed connection is between two old friends. In The Last Yankee, it stems from the inability of the partners in two marriages to reconcile their dissimilar emotional and worldly needs. The time for both could be any time within the last ten or twenty years (I Can't Remember was written in the late eighties and Yankee in the early nineties).
Unlike these fictional characters, Miller and Chaikin and their creative team do succeed in showing the thematic connections between the two plays. The performances are fine and in Joseph Wiseman's case, magnificent. To further strengthen the connection E. David Cosier has designed two distinctly different but cleverly interlocked sets. (It's worth staying in your seat during the intermission to see the first set deconstructed and reassembled into the hospital setting for The Last Yankee ).
The evening begins with the more intriguing and stylistically interesting I Can't Remember Anything which is stamped with both Miller's usual touches of disillusion with the world as it is and Chaikin's own battle with aphasia. The plot, such as it is, centers on Leo (Joseph Wiseman) and a widow companionably named Leonora (Rebecca Schull). Their lives have become emotional slices of Swiss cheese. Both were apparently once part of an intellectual socialist circle, as was Lenora's husband. The scene is Leo's wreck of a kitchen where Lenora visits daily. Leo fights his depression by compulsively concentrating on small projects, including signs to insure that his organs will be donated to science in the event that he has another stroke. Lenora appears perky but is angry and frightened because everything that once made life meaningful has slipped out of reach and Alzheimer-like memory lapses have even robbed her of the ability to relive the past. The conversation between these old friends (friends in need or in fact?) is reminiscent of a Pinter play, requiring the viewer to fill in the Swiss cheese holes from the bits of verbal flotsam and jetsam. If you don't pay close attention to everything you'll miss the layers beneath the words -- as Leo and Lenora miss reaching out to each other.
As already stated, Wiseman is spectacularly good; Ms. Scholl is a tad too vibrant and attractive to make her character's despair and diminishment totally convincing. Except for one fleeting scene where the two dance and we get a hint that their friendship might once have been or almost been more than meets the eye, I Can't Remember Anything is more a moment in time than a fully realized story and, except for a few flashes of humor, it is relentlessly downbeat.
The Last Yankee comprises several scenes so that we actually have three duos interacting without truly interconnecting. The first scene has two men comparing notes on the chronic depression of the wives they are visiting in a state institution. Lenny Hamilton (Kevin Conroy) is a descendant of Alexander Hamilton who deliberately avoids the trappings of American success and John Frick (Peter Maloney) is a Yankee style Babbitt. This is followed by a very affecting scene between the two wives (Kate Myre and Shami Chaikin), one driven into depression by her husband's insistent rejection of the American Dream and the other too vulnerable to live with a man dedicated to its pursuit. The play concludes rather predictably, with the spotlight on the fifth character (Betty H. Neals ), a woman who has been too immobilized to move from her bed or utter a sound.
Peter Maloney as the rich husband full of practical homilies but devoid of emotional insight is the cast's standout. Tami Chaikin's bit as a tap dancer in top hat and short skirted dancing outfit to match is hilariously heartbreaking. That said, however, the play's seems to slow down somewhere along the middle and in the process loses much of its impact.
Having given American audiences a chance to see American Clock in a richly staged and cast production, and now this lovely staging of these lesser-known plays , one can only hope that the Signature's artistic director James Houghton will opt to conclude this Miller season with something which falls somewhere in the middle between his little known and his classics. The Price, which explores Miller's strong family themes and shows him at his best in terms of combining narrative potency and humor would be a great choice. Maybe if people stop visiting with Mr. Green at the Union Square Theatre (see link below) they could get that terrific octogenarian, Eli Wallach, to recreate the role of the old furniture dealer.
Links to plays mentioned here:
An Overview of Arthur Miller's Career includes links to all Miller plays reviewed and archived at CurtainUp as well as a link to obtaining a published edition of The Last Yankee.
Connecting in an Isolated Age DC Report
Visiting Mr. Green