Family memories, World War II history, and the troubled recesses in the human psyche converge in “Forget Me Not,(Or Minding June’s Story, A Family Tale)” a new play written by Buffalo’s own Diane Almeter Jones. The play is making its regional premiere this weekend at the Kavinoky Theatre.
. . .a powerful and thoughtful work.
It’s a powerful and thoughtful work. The story flits between the 1940s and 1980s, spanning three generations, based on emotional artifacts from the playwright’s family. At times, it’s not easy watching. The opening scene is disconcerting: the 1980s granddaughter, sequestered in a high-ceilinged attic packed with family mementos, looks like she’s ready to harm herself. Her husband’s voice through the door startles her, announcing that her beloved grandmother has died. She hurriedly pushes down her sweater sleeve and begins pacing the space. In a waking dream, or some absurdist reality, the attic is now alive with spirits, perhaps powered by Grandma June’s collection of postcard and letters, treasured in a flowery box. Her Grandma June, Grandpa Harry, his brother, and in a curious and funny moment, the blessed Mother with a Madonna blue robe, an Irish accent and a bottle of chianti, are revealed in clever entrances and exits that rarely use the attic door.
Set designer David King’s stage is magnificent here, punctuated with just-right set pieces (Almeter Jones is the Kavinoky’s resident properties manager), from furnishings to a wedding veil. Brian Cavanaugh’s lighting design is skillful: there are stark and bright moments when the characters break from ensemble and tell their story. Director Kristen Tripp Kelley uses these moments wisely: these brief monologues help form their moments of connection with the audience. The Kav’s snazzy LED curtains display images from the family correspondence and other subtle video snippets. There’s a lot of activity on the stage, too, as characters move from the focal point farmhouse table to the elevated “spotlight” chair: is this another metaphor for rising heavenward, or a way of distancing for clarity and perspective? Kelley’s smart direction keeps the movement from being too frenetic.
The actors, in their multiple roles, give life and voice to Almeter Jones’ family. Anne Roaldi Boucher is charming as shy teen June at times, and strong as the gentle wise grandmother. Her life, her challenges form the backbone here. Zachary Bellus is Harry, the earnest younger brother who is determined to make June proud. Nick Stevens as Harry’s brother Francis, another family soldier, has his own secrets and story. It’s Maria Caruso as Diane (and the Blessed Mother) who advances the story as the narrator of sorts, the convener of souls who reads from the family correspondence and pulls the distant past into the more recent past.
Almeter Jones developed this project in the 2015 Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop at Road Less Traveled Theatre. Her inspiration was her grandmother’s box of letters and the rich family history it represented. She does her family history proud.
Running Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes, no intermission.
“Forget Me Not, (Or Minding June’s Story, A Family Tale)” has a fast weekend run on stage at The Kav, closing on June 9, 2018. For more information, click here.