You might think the daughter of a Cuban comic and his wife, a Puerto Rican exotic dancer, could come up with some colorful recollections. With Marga Gomez, who is that daughter, you’d be right.
Gomez, who with David Ford has developed “Memory Tricks” as an autobiographical reminiscence, tells her story–unique, yet also universal–through a series of accurately re-created incidents spanning her years from around age 7 to adulthood.
Ranging from hilarious to sorrowful, they form the mosaic that characterizes the relationship most people have with their parents.
Mostly Gomez focuses on her mother, recalled as a beautiful, proud woman continually seeking reassurance about her allure.
Right away, Gomez recalls the defining occasion when she, as a little girl, was forced to settle an argument between her parents over which one she loved most. The painful and reluctant decision went to her mother, who didn’t hesitate to barrage Marga with some heavy artillery–guilt.
Another memory, this one more humorous than sad, revolves around the childhood birthday party Gomez’s parents gave for her –at 10 p.m. on a school night. Bad enough that she was the only child there, but then the revelry ended with neighbors in the surrounding buildings retaliating for being snubbed.
Growing up, Gomez faced the typical ambiguity of wanting not to be like her mother, yet admiring the way she handled herself. Later, as Gomez relates, her parents divorced, and when her father died, Marga discovered that her mother had fled a philandering second husband by going to Paris.
Mom had always admired the French, Marga says, because their 18th century hairstyles were so curly and the women wore low-cut dresses in the morning.
Gomez keeps her narrative flowing smoothly with an ingratiating charm, blending the storytelling skill of Spaulding Gray with the character-creating ability of Lily Tomlin.
Under director Ford, her timing generally works, but there are a few instances when he should have her pause a beat or two longer to give a line more impact.
Arguably, this is more monologue than theater, with Kraig Blythe’s set a park bench and lamppost. Still, Blythe’s lighting shows the versatility necessary for a variety of locales, and Gomez amply demonstrates that she can act.
Sometimes humorously, as when she delineates her youthful terror and exhilaration during a carnival ride with her mom, and sometimes tragically, as when she impersonates her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother’s attempts to communicate.
That latter part, however, most troubles this production. It appears that Gomez is attempting to come to terms with her mother’s illness, and to reconcile her own jumbled feelings, with an extended tribute.
But while it’s touching and sympathetic, it’s too repetitious and downbeat, giving an insightful and entertaining journey a trudging finish.
While, of course, there need not be some artificial happy ending tacked on, some technique to break up the dreariness–maybe flashing back and forth from mother past to mother present–would energize the second act while underscoring Gomez’s flexible talents.