- Just a reminder, I do not rate staged readings, but I do blurb about them.
- What a refresher! Playwright and director, Steve Kaliski, is a friend and colleague of mine, and he never fails to impress. Although, you may recall, I was not a fan of THE MINERVAE (see July). However, in that case, I fault the play itself and the venue, primarily, and not Steve.
- Steve's background is in English, and I also happen to know he has a strength with classics. This play, loosely based on what may happen after the events of Euripides' ALCESTIS, is very well-crafted. In fact, in many ways, it has similarities to my own play, TWO TRUTHS AND ALLIE (the characters often referred to Alcestis as Allie, which really jumped out to me), in that it revolves around loss and extreme reactions to grief, but where Steve wins and I fail is in the clarity of the concept and the sharpness of character development and relationships.
- Beyond grief, the play (as the title suggests) is more about the construction of memory as it relates to those close to us. Steve's mastery of the art of playwriting shows in the ways he deftly weaves memories (and also forgetting) into episodes throughout the play. A standout moment is when the maid/nanny character, Aimee (played by Hanley Smith), discusses with her mother/the chorus the old lullaby she can't quite recall. Another highlight is the story/memory of how Alcestis (Amanda Holston) and Admetos (Graham Halstead) met, and how they both remember the event similarly, but slightly differently. Steve's poetry also comes out in this scene because it is a beautiful construction of the beginning of the intangible, but visceral connection that occurs between two people in love.
- What worked very well in this staged reading was the use of a puppet to represent the child of Alcestis. The puppet was constructed and voiced by Liz Ostler, who has training and experience in Bunraku and other styles of puppetry. Because of the clarity of the action around the puppet, the child was a very live character in the space. I wonder, however, if this would work in a larger production. A child actor may be difficult, but I'm not sure the use of this device, which is very Eastern, works in this play, which articulates variations on Greek (Western) traditions, namely its Euripidean origin and also the use of a chorus, and a prologue and epilogue.
- The chorus, by the way, was highly effective and well-performed. Overlapping voices can turn into a mess very fast, but Shawna Cormier, Kristi Funk Dana, Katie Lear, and Hanley Smith, always maintained a unit, while being simultaneously individual. Shawna Cormier's chorus character, Irmadene, even had a southern accent for no reason I can see other than to individualize her.
- I feel I must make a special mention just for Amanda Holston as Alcestis. Before recovering her memory later in the play, she spent much of the first act silent, confused, but also the center of attention for the other characters. To balance the perilous line of either disappearing or overcompensating is no mean feat, but Amanda managed it flawlessly without breaking a sweat, and she was well-synced with Liz Ostler who voiced her stage directions.
- Also Richard Ugino as Death and Gabriel Weissman as God were both adorable and a nice touch of lightness to a very heavy idea.
- The one device that I questioned, however, was the inclusion of a theatre game into the text. Memories and how we construct them or reconstruct them is central to the play, but Steve allowed characters the ability to stop a scene in its tracks by saying outloud, "freeze." It sounded like something from an improv game, and it turns out that it came from when the actors workshopped the piece. I like the idea of playing with time, especially because the characters of this play have power over death itself, and therefore are already messing with timelines, but... there's gotta be a stronger way.
- Overall, I was very impressed not only from my Brooklyn College colleagues (once again!), but by the newly formed Resonance Ensemble that produced the reading. Everything, from start to finish, was well-polished and professional. I wish this was the norm, but as of late, professionalism is the exception. Stay tuned for my next blurb + Rx.
- Again, I don't rate staged readings, but if MEMORIAM moves forward into production, I have no doubt that it would have quite a few T shots going for it.