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From left: Caroline Treadwell, Shami McCormick, Jennifer Marshall, standing - Paula Hoza
From left: Caroline Treadwell, Shami McCormick, Jennifer Marshall, standing - Paula Hoza

Theatre review: The Memory of Water at Depot Theatre

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The Memory of Water is the final offering of the season at the Depot Theatre in Westport, running through September 23. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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Good theatre is certainly alive and well at the Depot.  THE MEMORY OF WATER by British playwright Shelagh Stephenson walks a fine line between hilarious comedy and personal grief.  Three sisters have returned home to the north of England for their mother's funeral, each bringing her own memories and her own perspective.  The family dynamics are exposed through witty bickering and individual soul searching, helped along by various recreational substances and the ghost of "Mum".

Matt Sorenson has designed a good two-level set for Mum's bedroom.  I especially liked the wallpaper, but found the back wall with its faux stone facing distracting.  The lighting designed by Iain Whitecross is effective, particularly in Mum's scenes.  Jean Brookman's costumes are very good and add definition to the characters.

The six member cast is uniformly strong.  The playwright has skillfully constructed the play so that each character has at least one scene where we see beneath the exterior to the heart of the person.  All these actors are able to take full advantage of this, and the three-dimensional humanity of each character is never in doubt.

As Vi, the ghost of Mum, Paula Hoza shows us her lusty younger self and then breaks our hearts with her description of what she felt with Alzheimer's.  As Catherine, the youngest sister, Caroline Treadwell's hyper and funny need for attention is balanced by the reality of a "Dear John" phone call from her boyfriend. 

As Mary, a psychiatrist currently having an affair with a married colleague, Jennifer Marshall shows us what's beneath the educated exterior and is especially powerful in the final scene.  As Teresa, the oldest sister, Shami McCormick is simply terrific and her comic timing is impeccable.  Her drunk scene is by turns one of the funniest and also one of the most touching I've ever seen.  In the scene where they try on Mum's clothes all three sisters are hilarious.

I mustn't forget the gentlemen.  As Mike, Mary's married lover, Marshall York shows us his caring side, but also his weakness.  Michael Irvin Pollard is excellent as Frank, Teresa's long-suffering husband who's not really happy selling natural remedies.  Their exit with the coffin is a riot.

Debra Whitfield has directed THE MEMORY OF WATER with a sure hand.  The staging is very good and at times very clever, highlighting what's already funny.  Along with her excellent cast, she's not only made these characters come alive, but makes us accept them as a family.

THE MEMORY OF WATER is a terrific play, and the best comedy I've seen this season.  It makes us laugh, but is also very moving without ever becoming maudlin.  I wish the run were longer so that more people could see it.  My companion said, and I agree, "I wish I lived closer.  I'd like to see it again."

On a scale of one to five the Depot Theatre production of THE MEMORY OF WATER gets five boxcars and a caboose.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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