Saturday, May 5, 2007

Memory - May 5, 2007

The first impression of Memory is one of bleakness. The set, the costumes and almost all the props and set decorations are shades of black, white and gray. Ah-ha. Memory diluted: never only black and white. Not terribly subtle, but not a hammer to the head either.

Small elements: the cap of a water bottle, a red pen, red white and green in a bouquet of flowers, a red apple, oranges in a bowl add the only hints of color in this grey world. There must be some symbolism at work here, but I was unable to follow it.

Playwright Jonathan Lichtenstein follows a time-worn tradition of setting his story within a play, in this case it is the story of Holocaust survivor, Eva, being rehearsed by 6 actors with their director. Eva's story, while compelling, dramatic, and ultimately tragic, is underserved by the conceit. There is no connection between the characters of the actors and the play they are performing, it is an unnecessary device that detracts from the meat of the Eva play. There is enough time hopping between the past and present, Bethlehem and Berlin to have made a significant play without the addition of the play within a play vehicle; which itself is perfunctory and underserved leaving both ends of the story diluted.

The actors do a suberb job - the fact that they are 'rehearsing' Eva's story is therefore once more diluted. Only in the final moments do the 'actors' have any line problems, this is due to last minute rewrites which inexplicably none of the actors feel are necessary. Why? We are never informed - again there is no connection.

There is a feeling that we are watching something that is "important" here... yet it always remains just a feeling. The pay-off being a subtext that never wraps satisfactorily and a tragic story that might have been explored more thoroughly without the play within a play.

There is a smoke effect during the performance that might need a bit of tweaking - audience members were choking and fanning themselves with their programs. Hopefully this was merely an opening night technical issue. As this production is a transfer and part of the Brits Off Broadway series there is a distinct feeling that the original staging was kept with no adjustment for the space at 59E59. Approximately 25% of the action is extreme downstage leaving anyone not in the first 3 rows with no visibility at all.

Had Memory been performed only as the Eva play I think this would be a wonderful piece. But in the words of the 'character' of Felix, "it's nothing personal" as such it is a memory that will soon fade.

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St.
New York, NY 10022
Tickets: 212-279-4200
running time: 90 mins no intermission

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