The Atmosphere of Memory Has an Atmosphere of Retread


David Bar Katz’s The Atmosphere of Memory—a Labyrinth production, directed by Pam MacKinnon—is sort of like a theatrical hydra: as soon as one cliché walks offstage, a thousand more spring up in its place. Bar Katz seems bent on fulfilling every family-drama stereotype at once: sibling rivalries, parental abandonment, and Oedipal complexes abound.

Jon (Max Casella), seething with writerly angst, has composed an autobiographical play, starring his girlfriend (Kelley Curran) as his sister, and his mother (Ellen Burstyn) as herself. But the piece isn’t complete: Something scarring befell young Jon, something that could supercharge his drama—but nobody remembers what. Might it concern his wise-cracking, whiskey-swilling dad (John Glover), a deadbeat who recently reappeared? Oh, probably.

Digging for trauma, Jon rereads his old diaries—a fit of soul-searching that unleashes wildly predictable revelations: Life and art occasionally overlap! Writers—they must find their voices! Everything formative happens when we’re babies!

Something this overwrought can’t help being inadvertently amusing, and the actors—Glover especially—are having fun. But the evening drags as Jon’s cast rehearses endless rewrites, from a Narcissus-themed toga-fest to an ill-advised Medea mashup. Bar Katz seems anxious to relate his work to that of every other playwright ever. But his extensive reading should have showed him this particular theme is tired.

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