Review: ‘The Memory of Water’ at Thunder River Theatre
If You Go …
What: ‘The Memory of Water,’ presented by Thunder River Theatre Company
Where: Thunder River Theatre, Carbondale
When: Through July 1
How much: $15-$30
As the stage lights come up on “The Memory of Water,” we see the baby blue walls of a bedroom that has cracks running from the ceiling and exposed wood beams at its ragged edges. Mary is getting out of bed wearing sunglasses after sleeping with the lights on because, at age 39, she is afraid of the dark.
Over the course of the play, which begins its second weekend of a three-weekend run at Thunder River Theatre in Carbondale tonight, we get intimately acquainted with a family’s cracks laid bare and three sisters fearful of what they might find in the darkness of memory.
Director Sue Lavin’s Americanized version of Shelagh Stephenson’s award-winning play, where coastal Maine stands in for Stephenson’s North Yorkshire, deftly walks the thin line between tragedy and comedy, crafting a production that’s unafraid to go deep and dark emotionally but manages to land laughs with its biting gallows humor along the way. In one pivotal scene, there’s a coffin in the middle of the room and Mary is sobbing uncontrollably, yet a one-liner here gets some of the biggest laughs of the evening. It’s that kind of play.
Mary (an outstanding Jennifer Johnson) is the oldest of three bickering sisters who return to their childhood home to bury their mother. All three are self-involved, fighting lonely battles against depression, and figuring out how to mourn. Slowly and warily, they learn to rely on each other.
“I don’t know how she managed to have three daughters and send us all into the world so ill-equipped,” Mary says early on of their mother.
Mary was the star of the family, an outstanding student who became a doctor and breeded resentment from Teresa (Laura Crow), the crunchy one who cared for mom in her final days and comforts herself in meditation by reciting a recipe for beef stroganoff, and Catherine (Gabrielle Bailes), a wild child who finds refuge in sex, shopping and weed.
In one tour de force of a scene, Teresa and Catherine raid their mother’s closet and try on her old dresses — mocking outdated styles and giggling over the bad old days. As they whirl around and toss garments, Mary and her lover Mike (William Bledsoe) sit at the center of this storm attempting to have a serious talk. It’s an emotional ballet of delicate stagecraft that’s worth the price of admission alone.
“The Memory of Water,” then, is about mothers and daughters, sisters and some of the sad truths of family — it’s about the invention of memories. It asks some big questions, offers few answers, and plumbs the depths of how parents — for better or worse — live on in children. There are family secrets revealed and some big twists as the play nears its conclusion. But those melodramatic revelations pack less of a punch than the play’s more subtle insights and how raw emotions can often only reveal themselves in black humor.
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