Slippery stuff

The Memory of Water

By Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by David Epstein
Invisible City Theatre Company
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal St. (501-4751)
Equity Showcase (closes Jan. 18)
Review by Ken Jaworowski

The Memory of Water isn’t an easy play to forget. Long after the story ends, the ideas linger, nagging the mind with questions that were previously only half-considered. Shelagh Stephenson’s play is far from groundbreaking -- the plot devices are about as threadbare as an old carpet -- yet what it lacks in tension it makes up for in concept.

In the play, three sisters gather for their mother’s funeral. As they recount their pasts, they realize their recollections of childhood events aren’t identical -- the same incidents were observed differently, and emotions felt by one sibling run counter to the feelings of another. Facts are debated and episodes disputed (‘I wish you’d stop remembering things that didn’t actually happen,’ one sister tells another), challenging the viewer to reexamine the nature of the past and malleability of remembrance.

The Invisible City Theatre Company’s production of The Memory of Water was capable and competent, though at times it suffered from its own proficiency. The success of a play with such a spare narrative hinges on the ability to convey complex emotions and ideas. While the actors delivered their lines with passion, the all-important silences were sometimes rushed over, denying the audience a chance to absorb nuances and contemplate themes. Such strong delivery also undermined the tenderness of the play -- these sisters are far from affectionate, yet the script does afford them a measure of warmth that was only infrequently seen here.

As Theresa, Erin Roberts was given the greatest range, and she used it effectively. As her husband Frank, Gerry Lehane also delivered an able performance. Elizabeth Horn’s Mary, the center of the play, best displayed the intricacies of her character when confronted in her dreams by her mother, skillfully portrayed by Kate Kiley.

Director David Epstein moved the actors around the single set with fluidity, though such control did little to highlight their confusions. Aided by Joe Novak’s fine lighting, Epstein’s direction did manage to create an influential mood throughout the two acts, however.

Not much happens in The Memory of Water that hasn’t been done elsewhere -- siblings discuss old times, reopen painful wounds, and argue past mistakes. Yet the play’s willingness to explore the controlling power of belief, whether that belief be true or false, kept the piece intriguing and watchable. Invisible City may not have presented an entirely memorable production of Shelagh Stephenson’s play, but it did offer a straightforward and enjoyable one.

(Also featuring Blake White and Kristin Woodburn.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Ken Jaworowski