Weird sisters bury mom at Blue Room
Dramedy. The blending of drama and comedy is not everyone’s cup of theatrical tea, just as the combination of drinking lots of whisky and smoking a lot of marijuana is not everyone’s idea of how to relax or achieve a “good time.” But watching someone attempting either combination can provide moments of insight and amusement.
Take the case of Shelagh Stephenson’s Olivier Award-winning play, The Memory of Water for example. The basic premise is that three diverse sisters have gathered together in Galway, Ireland at their childhood home to prepare for the funeral of their very recently deceased mother in the year 1988.
We first meet the oldest sister, Mary (Miya Squires), who is trying to take a nap on the mother’s bed while wearing a pair of sunglasses. Her dream encounter with her mother (Drenia Acosta) is interrupted by the entrance of the middle sister, Teresa (Erika Anne Sorenson). The two engage in the heated banter of two sisters who haven’t been socially engaged for some time but who find it very easy to fall into the competitive and critical roles they grew into as children. Mary, a psychotherapist, offers the best line of the set piece when speculating about the advice one might find in a hypothetical book of etiquette on how to deal with the topic of sudden death, “Phrases to avoid include, ‘Guess what?'”
The entrance of the youngest sister, Catherine (Michelle L. Smith), dressed in leopard-skin trench coat, micro-miniskirt, form-fitting sweater and a pair of extraordinary boots completes the trio of physical and personality types: Mary, the solid, somewhat imperious whisky drinking doctor of minds; Teresa the willowy, new-agey merchant and ingester of health food supplements, and Catherine the neurotic, superficial, pot-puffing party girl.
The interactions of this core trio are an intertwined set of monologues that emphasize the sisters’ separation from each other as well as illuminate their shared past. The arrival of Mary’s “married boyfriend,” Mike (Andy Hafer), shifts the focus away from the sisters and allows the play to branch into a fairly typical war of the adulterous sexes routine that is interspersed with a comic assessment of the mother’s clothing, that combined with the sisters’ ingestion of various drinkable, smokable and pop-able substances and the arrival of Teresa’s husband, Frank (Benjamin Allen), leads to a contrived but nonetheless touching moment of childlike reconciliation for the sisters.
With the cast completed at the end of the first act, the play resumes with a series of scenes involving various matchings of the characters, and the play’s alternating currents of family drama and situation comedy become an oil and water combination that, perhaps deliberately on the part of the writer, never quite jells.
A crucial dramatic subplot that runs throughout the play involving a scandal in Mary’s past was somehow less revealing of genuine character than Frank’s confession that he “Hated Hannah and Her Sisters,” a fact that devastates Teresa with the realization that he’s “Only pretended to like Woody Allen for all these years.” A nicely played moment and a gracious and canny acknowledgment by the playwright of one of her sources of inspiration.
All-in-all the play is an mosaic of separated moments, and at times can seem a bit over-contrived, but even this is acknowledged by the author in a short bit of dialogue delivered by the mother’s ghost, or memory, toward the end of the play, so one is left with the feeling of having experienced a very deliberately manufactured piece of post-modern art, and can be satisfied with ambivalence as a conclusive, if uneasy, emotion.