Memory

By Jonathan Lichtenstein

memory by jonathan lichtenstein
Memory by Jonathan Lichtenstein

Directed by Matthew Reeder

Produced by Back Stage Theatre Company

At the Viaduct Theatre

Powerful look at the effects of memory on history

BackStage Theatre Company opens its season 11 with a most intriguing drama – Jonathan Lichtenstein’s 2007 Memory. this most worthy theatre company have been mounting excellent plays for years and Memory certainly qualifies as as “must see!”

The almost bare stage has several flats, a couch, a piano and several actors and the director getting ready for another rehearsal of  their play. Brenda (Brenda Barrie) questions her director (Josh Hambrock) about the re-writes as other cast members wonder in to the rehearsal bothered by parking places and the need for hot coffee. But once the rehearsal begins, the cast instantly becomes professional letting their talents and memories present the work.

memory by jonathan lichtenstein

Playwright Jonathan Lichtenstein was profoundly affected by his father’s escape from Nazi Germany during the Kindertransport in 1933. That event motivated Lichtenstein to pen Memory. Told in three parts parallel stories, Memory examines Holocaust Era Berlin (circa 1933); Berlin 1990; and Israel in 2006.  The  90 minute one act weaves the three settings into a comprehensive and moving story of the effects of memory on history.

memory by jonathan lichtenstein

Brenda Barrie is the cute 21 year old German Jew girl, Eva,  whose best friends are Flex (Patrick De Nicola) and Aron (Tony Bozzuto), a German lad and a German Jewish man.  The two men open a shoe store in Berlin in 1933 just before Nazi’s Kindertransport attack on Jewish businesses. We learn that Eva takes responsibility for two Jewish children while see marries Aron leaving Flex jealous.  The antisemitic atmosphere in Germany necessitates that Aron sell out to Flex as Jews were either leaving Germany or sending their children to England to be safe.  Eva and Aron struggle to escape with their child and their two wards.

memory by jonathan lichtenstein

Flash forward to 1990 to Berlin as the wall falls. Eva’s grandson, Peter (Shane Michael Murphy) travels from America to visit his estranged grandmother to learn her family secrets from the the Holocaust Era.  It seems that Eva, now 78 years old, survived in Germany as a dishwasher having given up her career as a piano teacher.  Peter is determined to unleash Eva’s family secrets begging the question: “Can a secret keep you alive?” Brenda Barrie is eerily effective and riveting as the older Eva.

memory by jonathan lichtenstein

Tony Bozzuto (Aron) and Patrick De Nicola (Flex) aptly depicted how political events can divide friends. The scene where Eva and Aron are suppose to be arrested by Flex is a wrenching shameful look into what people will do to survive.

memory by jonathan lichtenstein

Playwright Lichtenstein, inexplicably weaves a parallel story involving a 2006 policy that finds Isaac (Samuel Buti) enforcing an Israeli mandate that would build a wall to separate Israelis from Arabs near Jerusalem.    Bashar (Bilal Dardai) is the Palestinian Arab  who attempts to defy the mandate that would demolish his home. While a powerful encounter, I think this storyline is another play that doesn’t belong in this one.

Back to Eva’s story. Peter bonds enough to looses up the aging Eva into telling him about her traumatic experiences in Berlin during the Nazi Era. The actress Brenda questions the  dialogue she must recite at the shows climax but the director has his way and Barrie deftly, with haunting emotions tells Peter what happened to the two boys in her care.  Barrie delivers that scene most unforgettably.

Memory is one of those theatrical gems that sneaks up on you as it reaches us on several levels delivering a riveting glimpse into the power of memory to hide and express secrets. The acting is first-class here from Barrie, De Nicola and Murphy. Memory is a mystery play filled with historical influenced secrets. Kudos to BackStage Theatre for mounting such a fine work!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At the Viaduct Theatre, 311 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL, www.backstagetheatrecompany.org,  tickets $25, $22 doe seniors/students,Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.