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I Can’t Remember Anything/the Last Yankee

I CAN'T REMEMBER ANYTHING

I CAN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING

Cast: Joseph Wiseman (Leo), Rebecca Schull (Leonora).

THE LAST YANKEE

Cast: Kevin Conroy (Leroy Hamilton), Peter Maloney (John Frick), Kate Myre (Patricia Hamilton), Shami Chaikin (Karen Frick), Betty H. Neals (Woman in Bed).

Signature Theater Company, continuing its Arthur Miller season, offers two slight character pieces that focus on old age, depressive disorders and survival. The double bill provides wistful reflections of the past and a dubious glint of hope for the future. This is a softer, gentler Miller, though some of the dialogue is resonant with the playwright’s familiar bite.

“I Can’t Remember Anything,” initially presented at Lincoln Center in l987, is a rueful duologue between a wealthy New England widow and her late husband’s best friend. Leo (Joseph Wiseman) is a scholarly old radical who finds contentment doing crossword puzzles in the solitude of his rural New England cottage. The all-too-frequent visits of Leonora (Rebecca Schull) cause him a great deal of anxiety, but his requests that she limit her visits fall on deaf ears.

All their friends and associates have died, and Leonora, whose memory is unreliable, is a bit too fond of the “colored water” in Leo’s whiskey bottle. This is an oblique little chamber piece. Discussing soup recipes, organ donations and Leonora’s late husband never gives rise to much more than middling comic carping.

Wiseman brings expressive body language to the bent and weary Leo, and there is a mountain of perplexity in his trademark upturned palms. Schull’s portrait of Leonora is tentative and vague.

“The Last Yankee” is a much more satisfying piece. Set in a state mental institution, the play explores the psychological wounds of two married couples. The disorders and the mental descent of Patricia (Kate Myre) and Karen (Shami Chaikin) can easily be traced to the personalities and behavior of their husbands.

Leroy Hamilton (Kevin Conroy), a descendent of Alexander Hamilton, is a contented small-town carpenter who meets the annoying and inquisitive John Frick (Peter Maloney) in the hospital waiting room. Frick is a boorish businessman who probes Leroy’s family history and career choices and very nearly pushes him to the edge.

For Karen, the viable escape from her controlling husband is tap-dancing, and her pathetic little dance in top hat and tails is the play’s most poignant moment. Myre, as Patricia, offers a fine performance of brittle composure as an optimistic wife who just might make it. Other actors are merely serviceable.

“Yankee,” which was produced by Manhattan Theater Club in 1991, remains a disturbing little comedy of distraught people. Director Joseph Chaikin has staged the pieces in conversational low key.

The clinically sterile mental institution and the tumble-down shack designed by E. David Cosier serve the plays well. Signature is expected to premiere a new Miller work in the spring.

I Can't Remember Anything/the Last Yankee

Production: NEW YORK A Signature Theater Company presentation of two one-act plays by Arthur Miller. Directed by Joseph Chaikin.

Crew: Sets, E. David Cosier; costumes, Teresa Snider-Stein; lighting, Kevin J. Lawson; music and sound, David Van Tieghem; stage manager, Donald Fried. Artistic director, James Houghton. Opened Jan. 11, 1998, at the Signature Theater. Reviewed Jan 8; 160 seats; $ 30 top. Running time: 2 HOURS.

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