While a show about a daughter’s strained relationship with her 60-ish mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may not be everyone’s idea of a feel-good musical, the world preem of this two-hander is surprisingly funny, true and touching without being sentimental. The production at Barrington Stage in the Massachusetts Berkshires spotlights two new talents to watch: keen-eyed observer writer-lyricist Sara Cooper and composer Zach Redler, who deftly navigate the tricky subject in an honestly felt and musically bracing production that features two stunning perfs: Leslie Kritzer and Catherine Cox.
These two actresses provide sharply etched characterizations of a not-so-lovable pair. Though characters are generically named Mother and Daughter, these characters are richly drawn, and helmer Joe Calarco stages the work with sensitivity and an avoidance of schmaltz. It helps that these are tough-minded characters, each possessing an independent spirit, a wicked sense of potty-mouth humor and a true sense of the absurd as they both deal with the unraveling of a not-so-simple mind.
There’s Cox’s prickly mom whose maternal skills during daughter’s formative years were seemingly lacking and who now brushes aside thoughts of increasing forgetfulness as a “calcium deficiency.” Cox, her taut face all angles, never asks for sympathy, and even defiantly sings of being “unlovable.” (“You’re not the first to tell me that! But I didn’t chose to be this way.”)
Then there’s Kritzer’s smart-talking, take-charge daughter, doing the dutiful thing by putting her on-line dating life on hold to move in and take care of her mother, who, in turn, sees her return as yet another failure in her daughter’s life. “It will be hard and it’ll be sad,” says the responsible off-spring. She’s half-right.
Kritzer’s character is one bruised apple from a brittle tree, but she makes her frustrated character understandable and appealing, whether comically bemoaning her single life or singing to the toilet.
The score is a mix of smart recitative, full of clever twists and turns, and some beguiling ballads that sneak up on you with their sly charm. “The Memory Show” makes a striking introduction of fresh musical talent whose new voices are very much worth remembering.