BWW Review: CHASING MEM'RIES Shows Us the Path to a Happier Life
Chasing Mem'ries/A Different Kind of Musical/written & directed by Josh Ravetch/
When I first heard about the premise of Chasing Mem'ries, I thought, "Oh no, a musical about death and grieving...and with a ghost on tap...spare us!" Well, sometimes first thoughts are terribly wrong. As it turns out Josh Ravetch's world premiere is a complete joy to watch. Ravetch skillfully directs, allowing the brilliant Tyne Daly plenty of space to pursue her journey as Victoria. Also starring Robert Forster as Franklin and Scott Kradolfer as their son Mason, this piece not only tugs at your heartstrings but will make you cherish every moment of living, through December 17 at the Gil Cates Theater of The Geffen Playhouse.
Subtitled A Different Kind of Musical, Mem'ries is more a play with music in which the songs, some old, some new, generate the memories that Victoria experiences in the attic of her Connecticut home on the day of Franklin's memorial. With lyrics by the sensational Alan and Marilyn Bergman, it's hard to go wrong. "The Way We Were", "Where Do You Start?" "Little Boy Lost" - with music by Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand, Johnny Mandel, Dave Grusin and others - spark vivid reflections that we can all relate to, and Victoria's decision not to attend the service downstairs on the lawn, but to stay at the attic window and watch from above is most definitely a cry for help. She is insecure about going forward without her professor husband to guide her. She opens up to her son Mason when he arrives and talks freely to Frankin who emerges from the shadows in an attempt to comfort her and give her a reason to go on. At two junctures, there is a lovely waltz that the couple dance, representing the happy years they spent together.
Ravetch's writing is full of insights about life as it is lived, past and present... Mason representing the present and Victoria the past. She hates technology, how people text, disregarding and disrespecting others. She cannot come to terms with why so many people are coming to pay tribute to Franklin, but never came to see him in the hospital when he was dying. Mason, an astrology prof, has a fiancee, an astronaut. He relates to his mother that because he could not be at her last launch, she has decided to leave him. So much for their engagement. This further unnerves Victoria in her current state of depression, but she does try to assure Mason that he will survive and pick up the pieces. The mother/son relationship is strong and pretty sturdy; in fact, the whole family truly love one another.
Ravetch is insightful, but not without being terribly, terribly funny. Victoria is labeled conventional, but is hardly so. Mason suggests that she doesn't laugh at a joke, but "reviews' it; she is always criticizing everyone for their behavior, their attitude, their appearance; you name it, she's a regular gossip monger with a seemingly superior attitude. New librairies without books she cannot accept or that people turn events like funerals or memorials into a show to satisfy their own talents and pleasures, like Thelma who always dresses flamboyantly and insists on singing "The Way We Were" horribly off key. This traditional lady shows just how unconventional she is when eventually she marches up to the big window, opens it wide and addresses the crowd below, giving them a piece of her mind, chastising them for their faults and begging them not to give her any kind of condolences or mention the word closure. It's an incredibly honest no holds barred monologue that expresses... if only I could say that and tell people to leave me the hell alone. Sally Field did it in the film Steel Magnolias, and Daly does it here as Victoria with a brazen sincerity that makes for a tremendous release. In an instant a sorrowful moment turns almost farcical.
A wife who visits her dead husband's grave and talks to him will understand and appreciate Franklin's wonderfully comforting retorts. He was there for her in life and on it goes. Forster as Franklin is so natural and low key in his approach and nails Franklin's demeanor to a tee. Kradolfer as Mason brings vulnerability and support to his mother's dilemma....and what more can I say about Daly as Victoria? Her emotions are so raw, so genuine. She brings 150% to Victoria and her deep down zest for family and love.
Tony Fanning's attic set is simultaneously cumbersome and New England attractive with its endless wood and Kate Bergh's costumes are just right, especially the casual purple grey ensemble for Miss Daly with a multi colored scarf. A brief note about opening night. Miss Dalys grey stretch skirt beneath the long purple top got loose and fell to the floor. Kradolfer motioned to her, she lifted it into place amidst audience laughter, without losing her concentration. On with the scene! A real pro!
Don't miss Chasing Mem'ries through December 17! You'll laugh, you'll cry. It's the kind of play that gives a well-rounded theatrical experience to adults of all ages. Bravo!
(photo credit: Chris Whitaker)