A new musical about Alzheimer’s disease? If you harbor suspicions that the musical, an all-American dramatic form, skews toward sentimentality, The Memory Show won’t convince you otherwise. This two-hander, produced by the Transport Group Theatre Company, embraces the therapeutic values at the heart of its poignant, carefully structured story. A 31-year-old (Leslie Kritzer) returns to her childhood home in Brighton Beach to care for her mother (Catherine Cox), who is coping with the disease’s early phase. As the mother (we do not know their names) moves between memory and reality in her mind and speech, the daughter pieces together the hidden biography shaping her mom’s often difficult behavior. Eventually–could it be otherwise on the musical stage?–the daughter must learn to forgive her mother’s life choices and embrace her new role as a caregiver, overcoming decades of family resentments.
Cox and Kritzer deliver heartfelt and psychologically invested performances, summoning the tenderness and anxiety needed to carry this narrative. But the conventional book and ballads (with music by Zach Redler) trivialize potentially disorienting emotions, settling for timeworn metaphors (forgetful elephants, leaves falling from trees). In the hands of director Joe Calarco, the mother’s state of mind stays transparent, her behavior entirely understandable, to the audience and, in time, her daughter. That’s the point of this compassion drama, of course. Dark notes turn light; bewilderment yields understanding. The result is a dutifully modulated, well-intentioned piece–earnest and uplifting, as a musical about a terrible affliction must be.