- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 16, 2001

We all have our own ways of dealing with a death in the family. Some people grieve in silence, others cry for days. In "The Memory of Water," three women deal with the loss of their mother by shopping, drinking, playing dress-up and dishing out sarcasm.
The Washington Stage Guild presents a sparkling production of this somber-themed, but hilarious play by Englishwoman Shelagh Stephenson that was an off-Broadway hit. Steven Carpenter directs a strong cast.
The sisters are as different as night and day: Teresa (Laura Giannarelli), frumpy and stable, has remained in their hometown of Yorkshire. She runs a health supplement business with husband Frank (Hugh Nees), and the verbal ping-pong between the two is a constant comedy.
The brainiest of the women, Mary (Jewel Orem), is a doctor, but seems so fearful of intimacy that she is involved in a five-year relationship with a married man, Mike (Morgan Duncan). She always dismisses emotions with a sarcastic remark, especially when her younger sister, Catherine (Tricia McCauley), is involved.
Catherine, dressed like one of the Spice Girls, in hip-hugger pants, tight tops and clonky shoes, has the restless moves of a cocaine addict. She goes off on one unrelated tangent after another, such as telling her sisters she went to a great funeral in Madrid where cocaine was served in bowls at the reception.
As different as the three are — and the trio does have the chemistry of sisters who revert back to their childhood roles when they get together — the one thing they shared was a dislike of their mother. Now that shes dead, they dont know how they should act or what they should remember about her.
To quell her stress, Catherine shops while Teresa sits in a rocking chair reciting recipes.
Although shes dead, the mother, Vi (Paris Obligin), wont leave the women alone. She shows up in a low-cut violet silk dress, long white gloves and sparkly shoes by William Pucilowsky to talk to Mary.
Mary is staying in her mothers room, which set designer Greg Mitchell has arranged with relics of Vis youth, such as hatboxes, a turn-dial phone and a silver-plated brush and hand mirror set.
When Vi appears, the light, by Marianne Meadows, is dusk or dawnlike. The sound of waves created by Dan Schrader — the waves threaten to pull the mothers house into the ocean — fills the air. The combination is perfectly dreamy.
In this tight play, the actors move swiftly between tragedy and comedy. Miss Giannarelli shows her acting range as she goes from being self-righteous to drunk and depressed as Teresa. With a sad-puppy face, she accuses her onstage husband of using different types of silences to get back at her.
Miss Orem portrays the sharp-tongued, cynical Mary as convincingly as the distraught one — we find out Mary has kept a painful secret. Miss McCauley skillfully plays the kind, but befuddled, and ever-marching-in-and-out-of-rooms Catherine, who spends several minutes crying in one scene.
Miss Obligin, as the mother, has the smallest part, and her performance is flat compared with the others.
Mr. Nees successfully becomes Frank, a quietly disgruntled and comical man, and Mr. Duncan elegantly delivers sophisticated Mike with a tinge of arrogance.
The fake English accents were the only distraction.
The talks between Vi and Mary — which constitute the most serious portion of the play — carry similarities of many mother-daughter conversations: resentments, alienation and the plea for forgiveness from the mother.
"Forgiving someone is just like throwing a switch," Vi says. You just do it and go on, she tells her daughter.

WHAT: "The Memory of Water"
WHERE: Source, 1835 14th St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, through July 1.
TICKETS: $22 to $25
PHONE: 240/582-0050

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