Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 7, 2011

The Memory Of Water

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 4, 2011
by Shera Cohen

One of Shakespeare & Company's best directors, Kevin Coleman, has staged "The Memory of Water," a tragicomedy about death and the reaction of family members who are left to mourn and to laugh. Four of the troupe's excellent actresses (Annette Miller, Corinna May, Kristin Wold, and Elizabeth Aspenlieder) spar in what is definitely a "chick play." Filling the male roles are the company's stronghold actors Nigel Gore and Jason Asprey in smaller roles to augment their leading ladies. Given all of these huge pluses, the production fails to receive the "A" grade normally deemed on this troupe.

The fault lies mostly in the script, and except for some nips and tucks, this critic believes in presenting what is on the page. Shelagh Stephenson's tale, set in 1990's, is jam packed with Black Irish Comedy. Does an audience member have to be Irish to fully "get it"? For a play to be universal in appeal, it is hoped that others "get it" as well. Is death funny? Can warring siblings also be passionate? Are haunting memories sometimes pleasant? Well, yes and no. The actors, along with the handling of their director, try with everything in them to balance their characters' episodes of life and death, love and apathy, and joy and despair. Generally, the seesaw doesn't work, particularly when volume is often over the top. The character who is literally and figuratively most heard happens to be the loudest at the time.

There are, however, wonderfully executed funny sections; i.e. Catherine's (Aspenlieder) health worries, Teresa's (Wold) drunken bout, and Frank's (Asprey) exasperation. Especially humorous is the sibling trio's purge of their deceased mother's clothing, with 1950's garments strewn about the set culminating with a "Mama Mia" standing on the bed finally.

There are many redeeming qualities in "The Memory of Water," and it is an audience member's decision to know if this form of comedy is his choice.