A Mother Runs through Them

The Memory of Water. At Alhecama Theatre, Friday, February 16.
Shows through March 11.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Memory_of_water.jpgShelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of
Water
is a difficult play that offers multiple opportunities
for actors to shine. The show, which won the Olivier Award for best
new comedy in 2000, has since gone on to attract attention for its
strong, character-driven exploration of three sisters’ feelings at
the death of their mother. During the course of a snowy winter’s
day and night, as they reminisce, sort through their mother’s
flamboyant wardrobe, drink, and smoke, the sisters are visited by
two men and a ghost. Stephanie Zimbalist plays Mary, the sister who
has become an important medical doctor doing neurological research.
Her portrayal of the stereotypical sacrifice of family for career
is nuanced and psychologically acute. In her scenes with her
married lover, a fellow doctor named Mike, Zimbalist keeps one
guessing about what her character’s next reaction or transformation
will be. Westmont College’s Mitchell Thomas, listed in the program
as Mitchell McLean, as Mike does a terrific job keeping up as
Zimbalist builds from a simmering initial appearance in a hat and
shades to a full boil of dramatic energy. Laurie Walters is Teresa,
the responsible married sister who owns a health food store with
her laconic husband, Fred (Leonard Kelly-Young). Teresa rockets
from obsessively arranging her mother’s impending funeral in the
opening scene to ultimately drunkenly parading her intimate
knowledge of sordid family secrets. Walters finds a steady balance
between Teresa’s alternating bouts of utter recklessness and
stressed-out self-control.

As Catherine, the youngest sister, Emma-Jane Huerta creates a
whirlwind of intoxication, neuroses, and one-liners, all delivered
in a spot-on accent. Bairbre Dowling brings otherworldly restraint
and dignity to her portrayal of Vi, the ghost of the mother whose
influence underlies virtually everything that happens. Director
Jenny Sullivan has done an admirable job with the material, which,
for all its fluency, remains a sometimes perplexing mix of comedy
and tragedy, with too much weighty metaphysical speculation thrown
in by its scientifically minded author. For theatergoers interested
in seeing adults acting the way they do when confronted by the
death of a parent — which is to say, irrationally — this is a brave
contribution to the literature of grief.

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