By Kathleen Tolan. Dir. Sandy Shinner. With Taylor Miller, Cassandra Bissell. Victory Gardens Theater.
Anyone who's ever baked so much as a cupcake knows that timing and proportion are crucial in creating pastry. In Tolan's Memory House, as an actress bakes a blueberry pie from scratch before our very eyes, both the timing and proportions are off. Though clearly well intentioned, Tolan's 80-minute tug-of-war—between a sweetly scattered baby boomer and her angsty adopted daughter—is the kind of conscientious play shaped more by the writer's concern for the world's awful state than direct experience with it.
It's New Year's Eve, and teenager Katia (Bissell, in an emotional performance much more believable than the stagy material she's given) needs to get her college-application essay to the post office by midnight. Completely disenchanted with the frivolous America she was rescued to, Russian-born Katia takes particular martyrdom in what she believes to be her charity-case status. As her mom, Maggie (Miller), tries to convince Katia that she was always loved and that such worldly guilt serves no purpose, smells of the nonmetaphorical dessert fill the place, reminding us of its presence but not much else.
Even if the action weren't stilted around the baking of the pie—the first 30 minutes of dialogue alternately race and slow down until the thing goes in the oven—Tolan's drama, which strives for painstaking naturalism, still would ring fairly false. Never would two women speak to each other in such eloquent public-radio rants, and never could a mother-daughter rift be resolved this tidily in less than two hours.—Christopher Piatt