It’s New Year’s Eve, and teenage Katya (Natalia Zvereva) hasn’t finished the essay for her college application, which must be postmarked by midnight. Her adoptive mother, Maggie (Dianne Wiest), an ex-dancer who now works an office drudge job, is baking a blueberry pie. Maggie’s offstage ex-hubby, a politically correct academic, has been encouraging Katya to see herself as a victim: Russian-born, she was acquired at age four from an orphanage in Omsk—either rescued from misery or torn from her suffering homeland by capitalist opportunism, depending on how you look at it. Rebellious, super-smart Katya hates the new bullying America but feels no connection to Putin’s Russia; unsure about going to college, she thinks about dropping out and heading back to Russia. Maggie naturally wants her to finish the application, but Katya just can’t see what it’s all for.
Frankly, she’s not the only one. Sympathetic as the two actresses are, and convincing as playwright Kathleen Tolan’s depiction of them is, it’s hard to know why we’re bothering to sit through the 80 minutes of pie-baking time that Memory House runs. A tiny mother-knows-best episode, with its ping-ponging lines varied by tiny emotional flare-ups and muted wisecracks, it scatters energy around a wide range of issues while reserving almost none for its central drama, an adolescent crisis so familiar that its happy resolution isn’t even gratifying. Zvereva shows powerful potential. Wiest, as always, can make emotional magic out of the simplest actions, like rolling pie dough in silence. But passing this off as drama takes a lot of crust.