Memory House by Kathleen Tolan, Directed by Allison Naruer, Seattle Repertory Theatre, November 16 - December 17, 2006.
OK, I get it, finally. One act plays are like short stories. You don't have the requirement of the rising action, intermissional cliff-hanger, and changing of the sets. You can just tell tidy little stories.
And we have a tidy little story here. Mom and daughter, New Year's Eve. Mom Maggie (Jeanne Paulsen) is baking a pie. Daughter Katia (Sharia Pierce) is supposed to be finishing an college entry essay. Maggie is divorced and dealing with her ex's continued success without her. Katia is adopted, originally from Russia, and doesn't have a sense of her own heritage and identity. Maggie wants to hang onto her daughter but also let her go free and avoid the mistakes she made. Katia wants to be her own person but doesn't know what person that is.
Hey, I said a tidy story, not a simple one. And Tolan's script weaves around Mother/Daughter relationships, desires, and blueberries adeptly. Maggie and Katia have an incredibly good relationship, as such parental things go, and while the dialog hits the Mamet-levels in profanity, very little of it is done with heat or agression. You see a lot of family dysfunction on the stage, but this isn't one of those situations. There is concern and conflict, but you don't get the mad bomber attitude in most portrayed generational wars. Paulsen and Pierce have believable, understandable, likeable characters - you don't get the feeling that writer Tolan is setting up straw opponents, or that she is asking you to choose sides.
It works. It is straightforward and comfortable in a way that traditional theater can be. It sidles up to the big issues and goes for the heart and avoids being shmaltzy and embraces family values. The only thing I can criticize the production on is the pie itself - up in the cheap seats, many of the audience were critiquing the pie recipe (and Maggie's comical production of it) more than the other action on the stage. So add that to not working with children or animals. Don't work with pie.
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