In A Memory Play Kip, (Trey Albright), a playwright, who is our narrator as well, tries to rewrite his parents' past. No simple task that. Take people you know well and recreate their lives, which in turn means erasing your own. It’s the sort of job for which schizophrenia would be considered an asset.
Specifically, our playwright sets out to recreate his parent’s wedding night, as in STOP the marriage because he knows what a catastrophe it is going to be.
Steve, an Army Corporal (who acts more like a Marine), has captured the heart of a Georgia Peach, Judy. They have arrived at their nuptial room in one of those newfangled Motor Hotels – a "motel" – to wait for the minister to make them legal before they do the nasty together. Because there is only so much dialogue you can expect when two horny people are waiting on a wedding license, our playwright has cleverly established himself as part of the goings-on right from the start. The result is a lovely layer of absurdism as Mom and Dad wrestle over her willpower in front of one of their kids who has not yet earned the status of being a twinkle in their collective eyes.
It is in this play’s conceit that we see one of Bob Stewart’s strengths as a playwright. Our author/narrator is both omniscient and vulnerable. He grants his parents free will but wishes they wouldn’t use it. He knows what is going to happen and tries to stop it. The soon-to-be wed and bedded couple argue with one another, reveal secrets, and grapple with their son over control of their fate. It is a brilliant idea, and while Stewart overindulges in exposition, the play’s concept is safe.
The most arresting scene in the entire play reminds me of advice I once got from an editor. When you are rattling around with a piece, she said, observe your conclusion when you arrive at it because it’s often where you meant to begin. A Memory Play concludes as the minister, played by their future son, asks the couples if they promise to be faithful though all the calamities we know are to come. They promise, and their son’s existence is secured, bringing us pretty much back where we started. It is a simple and dizzying effect. If there are rewrites down the pike for this play, that scene might be the place to start.
I suspect Stewart has more ideas up his sleeve and look forward to seeing them released onto the stage again. In the meantime he would do well to focus on story and plot structure. It’s back to the basics for this writer – try Williams or Hellman or Wilder. Stewart has the kind of mind that wants to build castles in the air and, in the words of Thoreau, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”
A Memory Play by Bob Stewart; Directed by Gary Levinson; with Trey Albright, Susan Izatt, and Artie Ray. Scenic Design by Artsink; Lighting by Wanda Ruggiera.
Produced by Workshop Theater Company – 312 West 36th Street, 4th Fl. East, December 3-20; Reservations 212-695-4173 ext. 4#.