Theatre Review: ‘Forget Me Not’ at Andrew’s Theatre

The cast of “Forget Me Not” at the Andrews Theatre.

If you groan when you hear the phrase “memory play,” you were probably forced to read The Glass Menagerie in school and are biased against them on principle. Even if this is you, Forget Me Not, playing at the Andrews Theatre July 25th and 26th as part of the Buffalo Infringement Festival, might change your mind. Originally developed as part of the Road Less Traveled Productions New Play Workshop, Forget Me Not is based on playwright Diane Almeter Jones’ own experience in Limestone, NY. It has been seen across Buffalo, most recently at the Kavinoky Theatre. Then, it saw significant revisions, and is now being presented here in Buffalo before it travels to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It should fit right in at the world’s largest performing arts festival; it’s arguably more living snapshots than a “play” in the traditional sense. There’s a flashlight sequence that literally feels like snapshots. It is executed with ease.

. . .heartwarming and poignant. . .

Maybe it’s a tad redundant, but Jones really understands these characters. That’s probably because she is one. The dialogue is natural at times, almost fantastic at others. Jones is fictionalizing events but using real letters to supplement the dramatic action. I was astonished almost immediately at how well she layers fantasy over realism and how easily she floats between the two. It’s an excellent piece, pushing the boundaries of theatrical storytelling while captivating the audience. It’s standard for Buffalo theatergoers to shuffle in their seats, cough without reprieve, or even have full conversations during some performances. Jones manages to create an atmosphere of silent anticipation, true “edge of your seat” drama. The only sound I heard was “wow” as the lights came down.

As Diane (the character), Brittany Bassett has the difficult task of driving the play’s non-linear story without words. Quickly establishing herself as one of Buffalo’s premier young actresses, Bassett is up to the task. She has the expressiveness that silent movie actors would kill for, and she’s equal parts engaging and enthralling. The fluid nature of the storytelling makes it imperative to have a strong narrative thru-line, and Bassett puts on that responsibility with ease. As June, Diane’s grandmother, Anne Roaldi Boucher is stretched to the emotional limit. Boucher, too, has no trouble with the non-linear storytelling. Where a lesser actress may have “played up” the fantasy, Boucher takes the given moment for exactly what it is, often snapping in an out of the fantasy with ease. She’s particularly effective in the scene where she receives the dreaded telegram. As Harry, June’s husband, Zachary Bellus captures the young lover, the bitter younger sibling, and the matured soldier all in one fell swoop. Playing his older brother Francis, Nick Stevens makes an imposing soldier and terrific role model. The two have a camaraderie and chemistry that reminds me of my younger brother, and it must be surreal for Jones’ family to watch these two embody the real-life characters. [I read on the website for the production that a member of Jones’ family was impressed with how well Boucher was able to capture the real life June]

I cannot say enough about how pleased I was to get to see this show here in Buffalo. It’s a heartwarming and poignant story where family is the real central character. It deals with themes that are so important to today’s world, including pain you can’t always see or even name. Because the show is only running two days here in Buffalo, it’s likely this article will be post-production, but I would encourage those people reading it to follow the production online as it travels to Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe.

“Forget Me Not” played two performances at the Andrew’s Theatre on July 25 and 26, 2019. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘Forget Me Not (Or Minding June’s Story, A Family Tale)’ at Kavinoky Theatre

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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.

First Look: ‘Forget Me Not’ at Kavinoky Theatre

In a city that is known for performing the tried and true classics, it is rare that a unique original work makes its way to a Buffalo area stage. Tom Dudzick, A.R Gurney, and Neil Simon are household names in the area, but the name Diane Jones is one that may not be as familiar, unless of course you have read a playbill from the Kavinoky Theatre. The interesting thing, is that Jones will be sharing the title of playwright with these well known names this June when her original one act play, “Forget Me Not” is performed at the Kavinoky Theatre.

“This is a culmination of six or seven years,” says Jones, “I started this script in an Intro to Theatre class at SUNY Buffalo State in 2012, and since then I have re-wrote it, workshopped it, and gotten wonderful feedback.”

Jones’ work, entitled “Forget Me Not” was selected in the Road Less Traveled Manny Fried New Play Workshop, where she was given wonderful guidance to make her script work. “You really learn a lot about your work and how to better it when you go through a process like this,” laughs Jones, “as an artist I was used to critiques, but this was a very rewarding experience.”

“Forget Me Not” is based on a true story of Jones’ Grandmother June, who receives a telegram in 1945, saying that her husband had died in the war. As the story unfolds, June has to learn how to deal with a situation of this magnitude, and also has to deal with being visited by her dead husband.

“I had acquired a box of letters from my Grandfather that he wrote while he was in the war,” says Jones, “and while I was reading them, I thought, this would make a great play. When it came to the war in 1945, no family was untouched by it.”

Jones never met her Grandfather, but she says that through writing this piece, she has had the opportunity to really learn a lot about him. “There was stuff that I learned that my family had forgotten. I read an early draft of the script to my family members, and at the end they were speechless. It really hit home for them, and I knew that this story would be really relatable to others.”

Jones is very excited that she is able to produce her show on the Kavinoky stage. “I feel honored. I call this place my home! I love the collaboration that comes with putting together a show like this. The finished product is nice, but I like the process more.”

“I think the audience will find authenticity in this story, and with that, they will be able to relate,” says Jones, who goes on to say that a similar thing has happened with Tom Dudzick’s “Over The Tavern.” “Dudzick had success with his show because so many people were able to relate to the authentic experience that they remember.”

“Forget Me Not” stars Anne Roaldi Boucher, Zachary Bellus, Nick Stevens and Marisa Caruso. The show is directed by Kristen Tripp Kelley.

“Forget Me Not” runs June 7, 8, and 9, 2018, is produced by Diane Jones, and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre.  For more information, click here.