BWW Review: NOTES ON MY MOTHER'S DECLINE Echoes Grief at Fourth Street Theatre
With a certain and subdued beauty, NOTES ON MY MOTHER'S DECLINE softens the blow that expectations, memory and loss deal to a contemporary mother/son relationship. Even as vivid descriptions of sights, smells, tastes and textures fill their liminal space, a void of grief remains.
In this autobiographical one-act play written by Andy Bragen, "Son" (Ari Fliakos) compiles mental notes about "Mother" (Caroline Lagerfelt) as she updates him on her evolving health condition and rich storied past. Lagerfelt delivers a poignant performance as an arts-savvy woman who navigates her New York East Village apartment not head-down in a natty robe, but chin-up in a quilted pink housecoat. Fliakos (an award-winning voiceover artist), employs vocal restraint and resonance to great effect as he accumulates information and narrates insights.
According to Son's notes, her home "...smells of smoke so deep that you are aware of it in the building's hallways, when you step out of the elevator, when you walk toward her door from twenty feet away. It permeates your clothes, your hair. It permeates every single object, animate or otherwise, that enters or exits the space."
Note by note, the show takes its time as Mother and Son make peace with their past, present, and future with delicate deliberation. The last show I saw directed by Knud Adams had similar perfect pacing: the fever-dreamy An Intimate Evening With Typhoid Mary, which takes place in a quarantined hospital room that is interrupted by a clinical parade of medical students, a doctor, a nurse and an orderly. In NOTES ON MY MOTHER'S DECLINE, a different kind of bedside drama-within-a-diorama plays out, as a serene and monochromatic warm-white set opens to audience seated on two sides. This world premiere is bolstered by a set design by Marsha Ginsberg, costume design by Sophia Choi, lighting design by Oona Curley, sound design by Peter Mills Weiss, and projection design by Knud Adams.
Late in the play, Mother declares "We're a family of stories." This is not revelatory; by this time the duo has been using stories effectively as both buffers and bridges. That's one of the reasons that throughout NOTES, the bond between Mother and Son flexes but remains strong. Their caregiver/receiver roles seem to reconfigure rather than reverse, exemplified by the actors trading places physically as easily as they swap memories, comfortably settling into moments of both silence and grace.
NOTES ON MY MOTHER'S DECLINE runs through October 27th. Tickets are available here.