If it wasn’t so funny, I would have cringed watching this play about three sisters preparing to attend the funeral of their recently deceased mother. The Memory of Water at Shakespeare & Company relates how they have reunited for her service. In it they taken up residence in her old bedroom, rummage through her belongings, even trying on her hats and dresses before claiming them, or tossing them. Two men, a husband and a lover, attempt to keep the proceedings under control but with little success.
This is playwright Shelagh Stephenson’s first play written back in 1996, and her work has become a favorite of adventurous theatre companies throughout the English speaking world. It has aged well. Part of that is due to the rapid-fire situation comedy that permeates its core. The sisters use humor to cope with tragedy.
But there is plenty of tragedy here, mostly in the inability of the sisters to feel much of anything for their deceased mother, or each other. They talk at one another, not with each other. What results is an evening of theatre that is a little Checkhov, and a lot Neil Simon. There are lessons to be learned here, only it is not the three batty sisters that are getting smarter, it’s the audience, assuming they are introspective enough.