As often happens with me at the end of the semester, I've got a bit of a blogging backlog to make my way through. Although some of these shows are still running, there have been some productions for which my reviews will appear after the the show's closing date. I include the reviews here as part of my admittedly imperfect chronicle of the Broadway and Off-Broadway seasons, and in anticipation of any future productions of these shows.
One show for which I was unable to post my review before the show's closing was The Memory Show, which recently ended its run at the Duke on 42nd Street under the auspices of The Transport Group. Despite the dull, generic title, The Memory Show is an ambitious attempt at musicalizing the relationship between a mother and daughter as the younger woman moves in with mom to care for her as her early-onset Alzheimer's disease progresses.
The reviews for this show were decidedly mixed, but I found myself deeply moved by both the characterizations and the performers who embodied those characters. What The Memory Show lacks in narrative complexity it makes up for in providing two stellar actresses -- Catherine Cox as the difficult mother and Leslie Kritzer as the beleaguered daughter -- a chance to shine. Cox makes extremely brave choices, and isn't afraid to let the mother character come off as abrasive, contradictory, and often downright impossible. Leslie Kritzer is just about the most versatile actress we have working in musical theater. She brings tremendous depth and nuance to, well, just about any role she takes on, but to the prickly daughter character in particular. (The characters are only identified as "mother" and "daughter.")
The Memory Show introduces us (or at least me) to two very promising creators: lyricist/librettist Sara Cooper and composer Zach Redler. Cooper demonstrates a deft understanding of Alzheimer's, from the memory loss, to the deterioration of movement, to the paranoid delusions that often befall the afflicted. More important, Cooper finds effective ways to dramatize these impairments, crafting moments that neatly and movingly capture the heartbreaking reality of the mother's condition. In one scene, the mother laments to the daughter that the leaves are falling off the trees. "It's not like it's permanent," the daughter says. "It's fall...the leaves will come back." The mother replies, "Not this year. I don't think they're gonna come back this year."
The show builds with a quiet intensity, although at times it seems as though it's merely meandering from incident to incident, from scene to scene. One recurring element comes from the mother character, who keeps promising/threatening to reveal a deep dark secret that will supposedly make the daughter sorry for the they way she has treated her mother. Well, when you build up something like this over the course of a show, the reveal had better be good. And it is. What seems to be hiding in plain sight is actually far more complicated and dramatically satisfying than certainly I could have predicted.
There's been a lot of online chatter about the "toilet" song, in which the daughter bemoans the more scatalogical aspects of her caretaker role. I can certainly see why people are put off by this segment, although I found it to be artistically valid, if distasteful. But Cooper and Redler acquit themselves many times over with a song for the daughter that shortly follows, entitled "Apple and Tree":
I know her so well, but we’ve yet to meet.
I’m made out of her but she’s not made of me;
I’m her apple and she is my tree.
The apple/tree notion is admittedly cliche, but overall the music and lyric here combine to create a moment that's actually quite stunning. Leslie Kritzer's heartfelt rendition of the song certainly adds to its power.
The moment that really sealed the deal for me was the very end of the show. (I'm not really giving anything away by revealing the show's final moment. At least I hope I'm not.) Director Joe Calarco brings the show to a slow, quiet close by bringing the mother and daughter together for what seems to be a shared moment of fond recollection. The mother then looks to the daughter and pleads that she wants to go home, oblivious of the fact that she already is home. The daughter sighs, and after a very long pause, says, "Okay, mom. Whatever you say." No easy answers. No pat resolutions. Just a picture of quiet resignation to remind us of the power of what we've just witnessed.
Again, not a perfect show. But still a very intriguing promise of what's to come from Cooper and Redler.