Play: “The Memory of Water”
Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue
Dates: February 11, 12, 13
Tickets: $18; contact 314-367-0025 or www.westendplayers.org
Story: Three grown sisters have returned to their mother’s home in northern England for her funeral. Oldest sister Teresa makes clear that she has carried the brunt of the burden in caring for their mother Vi in the final stages of her Alzheimer’s illness, while also running a relatively unsuccessful organic food business with second husband Frank. Middle sister Mary is a physician who has been involved in a problematic, long-term affair with a fellow doctor named Mike, who is married to a woman whom he claims has a serious affliction. Youngest sister Catherine has suffered through a series of failed relationships, searching for happiness through a combination of drugs and shopping ventures.
As the three sisters gather to sort out their late mother’s belongings, they also rummage through the tattered feelings she’s left with each of them in her less than perfect approach to motherhood. Old secrets are conjured up and new ones revealed as the trio of women recall what may or may not have happened in their lives, acknowledging along the way that “some of the memories aren’t real.”
Highlights: Shelagh Stevenson’s premier playwrighting effort won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2000 and is chockfull of amusing lines for each of its three primary characters. Under the watchful tutelage of director Tom Kopp, this tasty West End Players Guild production offers splendid performances by Leslie Wobbe, Suki Peters and Belinda Quimby as the bickering siblings Teresa, Mary and Catherine, respectively.
Each of the three actresses has a grand time with her character, although Quimby comes closest to stealing scenes as the simple-minded, love-starved Catherine. With the notable assistance of costume designer Vallerie Dillard, Quimby elicits laughs not only with her meandering mutterings but also with Catherine’s penchant for tacky shoes and a funeral dress that leaves little to the imagination, as Mary observes.
Other Info: Peters makes the best of Mary’s many glib one-liners with a consistently smooth delivery, while also interacting nicely with Ben Ritchie as Mary’s tender but elusive lover. She also shares scenes with her mother (Meg Brinkley), who has been interacting with Mary beyond the grave, where Vi is as oblivious to everything as she was in life, including a philandering husband and daughters she seemed to love only superficially. Brinkley does a good job conveying Vi’s distance and indifference.
Wobbe has fun as the starched eldest sister, letting down her guard under the influence of liquor she reluctantly consumes to quell her own frustrations, including her testy relationship with Frank, who desperately wants out of their business and longs to open a pub instead. As Frank, Chris “Mr.” Jones has an easy way with the dialogue but is too often buffoonish with a series of pratfalls that seem awkward rather than clever. Ritchie provides a convincing portrayal of Mary’s lover, who stubbornly clings to his own agenda despite her yearnings.
Kopp’s set design, effectively lit by Stephanie Draper, fills the West End stage with a fitting representation of Vi’s bedroom, with enough furniture and knickknacks courtesy of props designer Nancy Groeller to allow plenty of room for various combinations of characters to interact without appearing claustrophobic. Joshua Cook’s subtle sound design underplays the show nicely, although it proves to be a lingering distraction in scenes between Vi and Mary.
While it won the Olivier Award, “The Memory of Water” — the title refers to the ability of water to retain its recuperative powers in all sorts of circumstances — essentially is a modern melodrama, a staged soap opera. As a result, the characters’ plights become overly predictable and ultimately uninteresting, despite the best efforts of all involved.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.