Having recently survived the stress of the college application process, the current production of “Memory House” at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Massachusetts really caught my eye.
Single mother Maggie arrives home from work on New Year’s eve only to find that high school senior Katia has yet to complete her one and only college admissions essay, for an application that needs to be post marked no later than midnight! The essay prompt demands that Katia describe her personal “Memory House” and the memories she keeps inside. After months of introspection, Katia feels she has nothing to say and the whole process is worthless, because she is adopted. The roller coaster of emotions that run through this two-woman show ring true to any parent who has gone down this road with their college-bound teen. The combination of hard deadlines, parental ambitions, and teenage angst are a surefire recipe for all manner of arguments and hurt feelings.
Actresses Rebecca Blumhagen, playing the part of teenage Katia and Susan Pellegrino, playing the part of her long suffering mother Maggie, bring this complex set of emotions and family dynamics to life. Over the course of the play, Maggie bakes a real blueberry pie and revisits the pain and joy of adopting a child from overseas. Simultaneously, Katia exposes her inner self doubts and anger at being removed, or perhaps even stolen, from her homeland. To add to the mix, the absent father calls with the helpful suggestion that Katia “needs a context” and should return to Russia to explore her roots, rather than go to college. Along the way Maggie’s sense of failure at never attending college and Katia’s fear of abandoning her mom are exposed. And, in the background, the clock keeps ticking for the pie to bake and the essay to be mailed.
What could quickly descend into a series of dark brooding monologues remains funny, upbeat and engaging thanks to the talents of Ms. Blumhagen and Ms. Pellegrino, as well as playwright Kathleen Tolan and Director Melia Bensussen. Together they manage just the right balance of humor, insight and hysteria. At 77 minutes the play was the perfect runtime.
I enjoyed the show in the company of two other moms who have also recently gone through the college application process with their teens. We each saw pieces of our own experiences, even though each of our teens faced a different set of stresses and challenges. Like Maggie, we each struggled at not always knowing the best thing to tell our teen but wanting them to know we love and support them throughout their entire college application process. Looking back, we are all pretty sure we won’t be so high stress with the next teen, at least that’s what we tell ourselves now!
Memory House runs at the Merrimack Repertory Theater through November 18, 2013. The intimate theater in historic downtown Lowell is easy to get to from Routes 93 and 495 and is only a half hour from Boston. There are some nice restaurants in the area. It’s a great night out for parents of all ages.