The Memory of Water, a comedy by English playwright Shelagh Stephenson that won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Comedy when it premiered at the Hampstead Theater in 1996, has come to the Chapel Street Players stage. Director Kathleen M. Kimber helms this latest CSP production that stars: Susan Boudreaux, Susie Moak, Lori Ann Johnson, and Cyndie Romer. Dave Hastings and Frank Newton round out the talented ensemble cast.
Three estranged sisters reunite on the eve of their mother’s funeral to bicker and reminisce (or rather misremember) events of their upbringing in this play that examines the structures of memory, family, and loss. The sisters struggle to make arrangements for their mum and, in the process, reveal the secrets of their separate adult lives as individual memories of their childhood collide with one another. Teresa, the bossy, obsessive, neurotic eldest sister, and co-owner of an alternative therapy/health food store, is pissed off and confrontational having borne the burden of caring for Vi (Mum) as her health declined. Middle sister, Mary, a doctor, was always her mother’s pet, but tainted the relationship by becoming involved with a married man. Catherine, the youngest and most immature of the siblings, is an emotional train wreck who tries to compensate for failures in her life with retail therapy, weed, and a number (I won’t say how many as that revelation provides a good laugh for the audience) of short-term relationships with men. Vi, the dearly departed mother, is a ghostly vision in green taffeta. She appears only to Mary, but she is no less of a specter to the other sisters as her influence as a mother demands to be reckoned with rather than buried and forgotten. Mike is Mary’s married boyfriend and Frank is Teresa’s husband and business partner.
The entire cast has great comic timing, making the production a true pleasure to watch. Susan Boudreaux (Mary) plays the vaguely disconnected sister in this dramedy, an overworked doctor with a fondness for whiskey trying desperately (albeit unsuccessfully) to get some rest. Boudreaux does an excellent job conveying Mary’s struggle as she tries to balance her career, her love affair with an equally successful, married colleague, and ghostly visits from her dead mother all while worrying about an amnesiac patient and dealing with her snarky sisters.
Lori Ann Johnson (Teresa) establishes her character as the dutiful, long-suffering, over-organizing daughter who, by the set of her head, rigid posture, and haughty attitude declares her superiority to her sisters. Johnson treats the audience to several great comedic as well as dramatic moments when Teresa’s head and shoulders droop a little after Teresa hijacks Catherine’s joint and commandeers the whiskey bottle then goes off the rails, amplifying the family’s tension by revealing Mary’s secret and long-buried past. It’s clear that Teresa feels resentful towards her younger siblings, but also somewhat protective of them.
Cyndie Romer (Catherine) is wonderful and garners laughs as the baby sister, perpetually vying for attention claiming she suffered from a lack of attention and that she was disconnected from her sisters as a child and who remains ignorant of Mary’s dark secret. Catherine is rebellious and self-obsessed, seeming to suffer from a limited attention span. She’s the only one of the three sisters to arrive without a partner (her Spanish boyfriend Xavier AKA Pepe is a no show) and offers spliff (marijuana) to everyone in the house.
Susie Moak (Vi) may be the most pivotal character of the play as she is the reason the sisters have gathered together in the first place and also provides the mother’s point of view. Vi only appears to Mary because she sees herself in her middle daughter. Moak was completely engaging and added depth to the production.
Dave Hastings (Mike) and Frank Newton (Frank) round out the ensemble cast and are great supporting characters. Dave portrays Mike as the affectionate and affable married doctor in love with Mary. Dave gets big laughs when he makes his entrance by climbing through the bedroom window and, later, by re-entering the room wearing, what is obviously, a ladies bathrobe. Frank draws huge laughs from the audience when he, during an argument with his wife, blurts out that he hated Hannah and Her Sisters (you’ll understand when you see the show).
The directing, staging, and set design are first rate for this production as are costumes, lighting, and sound cues. Director Kathleen M. Kimber and Assistant Director Christie Cerminaro led a talented crew that also included Stage Manager, Caitlin London; Lighting Designer, Judy David, and Set Decoration Designer, Scott F. Mason.
The play’s title refers to a homeopathic theory that water retains the effects of healing properties long after they have been washed away. Stephens has suggested that our brains work in a similar fashion, saving what they need to keep us functioning, which may explain the sisters’ selective amnesia—quite different memories of the same events that help the sisters to cope and survive.
Memories fade, but before this play fades from the CSP stage, write yourself a note or tie a string around your finger to remind yourself to get tickets. The Memory of Water runs through April 28th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.