Chasing Mem’ries: A Different Kind of Musical
Reviewed by Dana Martin
Through December 17th
Chasing Mem’ries: A Different Kind of Musical at the Geffen Playhouse proves that grieving is complicated and memories are uneven and fickle. This world premiere musical explores the terra incognita of life after tremendous loss, and is at times too cluttered by memories past.
Recently widowed Victoria (the magnetic Tyne Daly) shuts herself up in her attic as the memorial service for her late husband Franklin (Robert Forster) takes place downstairs. She is surrounded by the relics of a happy home life, which are both her own personal purgatory and her safe house from her devastating present circumstance. She just can’t imagine a life without her husband. Her dutiful son Mason (Scott Kradolfer) gently guides her towards acceptance of the present by releasing the ghost of her past, allowing her to acknowledge the permanence of her husband’s death.
The script itself is overwritten and laden with sentimentality, which lessens the production’s dramatic impact. Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman borrow heavily from their hit song “The Way We Were“, which serves as inspiration for both the play’s premise and its syrupy sweet musical tone which becomes repetitive and tiring. The most compelling moments come when Victoria expresses to Franklin her resentment of his deception regarding his diagnosis, and his choice of how to spend his final days.
Tyne Daly’s performance is powerful in its simplicity. She is honest and transparent, and her talents exceed the material. She’s also dry and witty, spit-firing one-liners one minute while wrecked by loss the next. She explores deeply painful emotional release throughout, as her character grapples with grief as well as the transformation of her identity. Musically, she never accesses the full vocal range she’s quite clearly capable of. (She won a Tony for Gypsy after all — you know the woman can belt.)
Scott Kradolfer provides a steady presence to Daly’s artful tumult. They share a genuinely loving connection with one another. Robert Forster brings a different kind of energy as Franklin’s ghost, visible only to Victoria. He has a strong presence and a quick wit — Victoria’s equal in every way. Musically, Forster wisely speak-sings his lyrics, in deference to Daly’s lovely voice and musical ease.
Writer/director Josh Ravetch finds creative ways to blend the live music into the scenes. He keeps the staging simple and the character relationships clear, but dramatically the play is weighed down by extraneous and uninteresting plot points, with the playable action minimized by a re-hashing the past.
Scenic designer Tony Fanning’s cluttered attic serves as a dynamic playing space, which is simultaneously tight and airy.
Though at times clichéd and saccharin, Chasing Mem’ries: A Different Kind of Musical manages to navigate grief’s hazardous and unpredictable terrain. The play ends as Franklin leaves Victoria with one request: that she squeeze very last bit of juice from her life and continue to live a life full of happiness. It is the catalyst enabling her move from the memories of her past into her grief-filled present. And in a final and most brave and difficult act of love, she accepts that he is gone, forgives him, and lets him go.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through December 17; (310) 208-5454 or geffenplayhouse.org.; Running time: one hour ad 40 minutes with no intermission.