Performing Arts Center to stage 'Memory of Water'

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Sep. 16, 2013
Alison Wiza (Catherine), Tonya Brock (Teresa) and Erika Kesselman (Mary) rehearse a scene from 'The Memory of Water.' Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Shelagh Stephenson's play, “The Memory of Water,” comes to the Complex for Performing Arts Center in Putnam for four performances beginning Sept. 21. The play won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2000. Critics recognized Stephenson’s smart, funny take on family, sibling rivalries and the fluidity of memory when the play premiered in 1996 in London. But the play is more than a comedy and more than a collection of brilliant lines. It is an exploration of family, filial devotion and dysfunction that is woven through the lens of memory. And that memory – or perspective - changes with the characters in the play.

The play brings sisters Teresa (Tonya Brock), Mary (Erika Kesselman) and Catherine (Alison Wiza) together after the death of their mother, Vi (Carol Alderson). Vi hasn’t been the softest or kindest of mothers, and in her later years has suffered from dementia.

As the only one of three daughters who remained in the area to care for her, Teresa is resentful of the responsibility she shouldered. Mary, the second oldest, is a doctor in London whose achievements and intellect haven’t been able to satisfy her desire for a child. Catherine’s moods swing from one extreme to another, as she relives the memories that contain few morsels of motherly love. Throw in a mother who refuses to stay down, even in death, the tragedy and humor of memory loss, brilliant timing and English wit, and you have an inkling of what to expect.

Vi isn’t the only one her daughters find fault with. They find and expose the flaws in each other during the course of the play. They spread that judgment out to include Teresa’s husband and Mary’s lover. The men provide timely, humorous counterpoints and wonderful balance to the three women whose lives have gone out of whack.

But while there is much humor, there is also deep sadness. Their mother has died. Thankfully, Stephenson brings her back to life in the play so she can address her daughters directly. Dementia may have robbed her of her memories, but that doesn’t explain why her daughters’ memories aren’t the same. And Vi calls them to task for this. Death and dementia haven’t taken her responsibility away.

Director Carole Hayes called the script exceptional. “It’s honest and real, and that’s what we try to accomplish,” she said. “There were a lot of lines to learn. There was a lot of laughing.”

Part of the work that went into rehearsal involved learning accents. Vi, Teresa and her husband Frank (Arnold Preston) speak with North Yorkshire accents. Mary and her lover Dr. Mike (Derek Corriveau) speak in London accents. Catherine’s accent is tinged with the flavor of Spain, where she has lived most recently. Even Alderson had to learn an accent. While born in the U.K., it wasn’t from the area the play is set in. “I suppose it’s been easier for me,” she admitted. “I have Yorkshire friends and know the accents.”

“So many people cast these plays from England and they don’t do the accent,” Alderson said. “It just seems to lose some of the power because of the way it’s written.”

Hayes wanted to keep the authenticity of the accent in the script. Without it, the play would have lost some of the softness, she said. And she put her actors through their paces with each scene by asking them pointed questions. “Before every rehearsal, I went over the scenes and I thought about where they needed to be. The best way to do that is to ask questions. It works.”

But Hayes didn’t ask her actors the questions; she asked their characters. Hayes said the characters become real people. They connected. They start asking each other questions. “As a result, the actors totally own their characters,” Hayes said.

Alderson calls the characters rich and well drawn. “It’s a beautiful script,” she said. “And I think we can all relate to it. It’s about siblings, sibling rivalry, fighting for a parent’s attention, that sort of thing. I think we’ve all been there.”

“I don’t think there is any one of us who hasn’t had to deal with those issues brought up in the play,” Hayes said. “This particular group of actors has been around long enough to recognize that this is an exceptional script. They love it. And they love the characters that they play. It’s a director’s dream.”

The play runs Sept. 20, 21, 27, 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students. For more information, call 860-963-7170.

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