The Memory of Water | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Memory of Water 

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The Memory of Water, Will Act for Food, at Strawdog Theatre Company. Three sisters reunite for their mother's funeral in Shelagh Stephenson's play, which is lousy with metaphors: the title refers to the fact that adults retain childhood influences just as in homeopathy water is said to retain properties of additives. Whether these metaphors clunk or soar depends entirely on the quality of performance, so that what seemed brilliant in the 1998 Steppenwolf production seems labored though worthy in this company's less experienced hands.

The script's sadness and transgressive humor alike are undercut by inconsistent performances veering between genuine emotion and Acting. As Mary, the central character, Jennifer Mathews is wonderfully natural but steps on her laughs, depriving the first act of its sustaining comic tone. To crank up the energy, perhaps, the other sisters are loud rather than persuasive. But later, when Corri Feuerstein as eldest daughter Teresa gets drunk and reveals family secrets, she offers a finely nuanced explosion, and Jenny Vilim eventually brings self-awareness as well as self-involvement to youngest sister Catherine.

Christopher Mathews seemingly directed each scene without regard for the others: Franette Liebow starts off playing the ghostly mother with a perfectly calibrated mix of maternity and independence, yet by her second appearance she's merely flighty and rejecting. Though the men do better with their smaller parts--Jason Jude Hill is subtly smarmy as Mary's married lover, Craig Degel superbly long-suffering as Teresa's husband--this work is a souffle that's fallen flat.

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