Theater: a rocky road or path to gold?
I love theater and I hate theater. I love the energy, the exploration of the inner life, the bond that cast and crew create with each other; I love the moment when our creation explodes on the stage for the audience. I love working with words, beautiful words. I love opening night when the audience opens its heart to the piece.
I hate the tension that comes from searching through the script, turning it on its head, throwing it on the ground, never knowing if we will uncover all its riches. I hate the relentless demands of theater, knowing that I will have no joy until it is thoroughly earned and each aspect of the show is in place.
Fortunately, “The Memory of Water,” the current play at Thunder River Theatre, beautifully rewards my best efforts. It’s that rare play that offers haunting beauty and genuine insight into human life.
When Corey Simpson, TRTC’s artistic director, asked me to direct I was thrilled, primarily because the play features four women, still rare in theater. Each character, including the two men, is juicy, with lots of edges and secrets. That was an irresistible temptation!
This play features the relationships of three edgy adult sisters who wrestle each other down familiar paths until they can admit their grief and let their mother go. The story of reconciliation of a daughter and mother is rare, too, in literature and theatre. Too bad — it’s a great story. For example, the oldest sister, Mary, has rejected her mother’s influence in life and blames her still. But through “the plagiarism of inheritance,” Mary resembles her mother in her face and gestures. She can’t get rid of her mother.
Recently, my youngest sister told a story of how in our youth in a big city, I helped her escape a life-threatening situation. I have absolutely no memory of the incident. Doesn’t matter. My sister needs that story for her survival, and I’m happy to be cast. Each play sister has a different memory of the same event in their childhood, and they fight over who is right. Turns out it doesn’t matter; we need our memories to anchor us in adulthood, so their accuracy is less important than their service to our survival.
One of the layers I like to research is the title of a play, particularly when it is as intriguing as this one, “The Memory of Water.” Does water have memory? Turns out it does, according to current scientific water research, going on all over the world. For example, the Roaring Fork River water is molecularly different at its source than at its terminus. It reflects what it has passed through. As a cast, we made the connection of water with our play family, where each member is shaped by other members of that family — not just genetically, but in essential character traits.
I also love directing funny plays, because stories need to sparkle. Our playwright Shelagh Stephenson, a writer for “Downton Abbey,” has the touch. Combine humor, depth of character and mystery until you get a juicy story that an audience will care about. That level of writing skill is a rare pleasure.
With more than five decades of directing plays, I have become more selective. I want a good play, good characters, good actors, a good theater with a supportive staff and crew and a great audience. I count my blessing that I have that in Thunder River Theatre and the Roaring Fork community. Now the fun begins when the audience gets to share this remarkable piece.
Sue Lavin, Ph.D., is an associate artist and director at Thunder River Theatre Company and a Henry Judge for The Colorado Theatre Guild. She teaches English as a second language at Colorado Mountain College. Sue and her husband, Jack Real, are longtime residents of the Roaring Fork Valley.
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