These rarely performed one-act plays by Arthur Miller were not a big success when they opened at Lincoln Center, in the intimate Newhouse Theater, in New York in 1986, with the Mark Rich of the New York Times stating they were “gray” and devoid of drama. British audiences and critics were not convinced either when the plays made their way across the pond a few years ago. Now Nearly There Theatre and Group Theatre & Film present the double bill at Theatro Technis in Camden.
The protagonists of the two plays, representing Arthur Miller’s own generation, take a critical look back at their liberal crusades only to find a moral grey area. Leonora (Deborah Javor) in I Can’t Remember Anything, passes her days bickering with Leo (Julian Bird), the best friend of her late husband, drinking his whisky to forget her disillusionment with a world that has not changed for the better. Leo, still a communist, refuses to give up hope.
A retired architect, Leo is still very much alive, checking calculations for a bridge that a colleague is building, whereas Leonora just longs for death, driving the short way to Leo everyday to joust with him and drink her days away. Leo, concerned for his friend, attempts to keep the past alive but Leonora refuses to remember a past that promised a much better future. All her friends are dead and there is nothing left to look forward to.
Julian Bird’s Leo is an affable, good-natured man who knows death is around the corner but he is trying to stay positive. Deborah Javor’s performance as the abrasive, world weary Leonora is a tad mannered which jars with Bird’s more naturalistic style but this contrast makes their performance exciting.
I Can’t Remember Anything is witty and darkly funny as the two old friends discuss the joys of old age and death. When Leo states that he wants to donate his body to the university, Leonora points out that he does not suffer from any interesting disease, just arthritis which is as dull as his background – the Midwest whereas the elegant Leonora is a New Englander.
Clara is much darker and more complicated than its companion piece. Albert Kroll (Julian Bird) is found unconscious at a murder scene. His daughter Clara, a social worker, has been killed, possibly by a former convict. Police Lieutenant Fine (Anthony Taylor) interrogates Kroll in a rather aggressive manner, but the traumatised Kroll suffers from memory lapses and does not seem to remember details of his daughter’s life. As the crime photographer’s flashbulb keeps going off, reflected in Simeon Miller’s lighting, snippets of Kroll’s memory return. But is trauma the reason why Kroll cannot seem to remember what happened or is it his guilty conscience – raising his daughter with his own liberal ideals that eventually caused her death?
Whereas the first part of the double bill does not have a plot at all, Clara has a rather convoluted plot and feels overloaded and pretentious. Like Lt. Fine we are desperate to find out what happened to Clara but even her ghost, who appears to her father at certain times, cannot illuminate the truth. The play was difficult to follow and a soundtrack of continuous traffic noise, which suddenly stopped at a certain point, did not help the audience focus on the performance.
The minimalist design of Nathan Osgood’s production is dominated by a web that resembles neurons of a brain, having ceased to transmit signals.
Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Danger: Memory! is playing at Theatro Technis until 15 October 2016