Tyne Daly and Scott Kradolfer Chasing Mem'ries: A Different Kind of Musical, directed by Josh Ravetch at the Geffen Playhouse.
Tyne Daly and Scott Kradolfer in Chasing Mem'ries, directed by Josh Ravetch, at the Geffen Playhouse.
(© Chris Whitaker)

Tyne Daly is a refreshing tonic that cuts through Chasing Mem'ries, now playing at the Geffen Playhouse, but even she can't save Josh Ravetch's production of his own script.

Victoria (Daly) sits in her dusty attic avoiding the overindulgent memorial service for her beloved late husband Franklin (Robert Forster). Uninvited speeches and singing solos from colleagues and relatives take center stage, turning what should have been a solemn and touching occasion into ego fests. Therefore, Victoria sits alone and commiserates with her husband's ghost. Franklin was Victoria's entire life and her loneliness and heartbreak is toppling her over. Their only child, Mason (Scott Kradolfer), travels between the attic, to reminisce and chatter with his mother, and the gardens below to attend to the 200 guests. Franklin's spirit comforts Victoria, but eventually she must find her own footing to continue living without her loved one.

Losing someone cherished affects every human being, whether the deceased is a parent, child, spouse, or friend. It's difficult not to empathize with Victoria, particularly when portrayed by the eminently talented Daly. However, Ravetch's play relies on every cliché and pours on the sentimentality like syrup on pancakes. Though there are several witty lines and insightful observations, most of the dialogue sound like pontification and don't flow freely as if from the characters' minds.

Daly, who won a Tony as Rose in the 1989 Gypsy revival, is more an actor who sings than a solid singer. Kradolfer doesn't balance that out, as he tends to go off-pitch himself. And Forster is not a singer at all; rather, he slips into speaking the lyrics. Therefore, the audience is left with tedious songs sung poorly.

As the yiddishe mama who cared for the home while her husband made a living as a professor, Daly always finds Victoria's humanity, never turning her into a Jewish mother stereotype. Daly makes it apparent that Victoria treats her job as homemaker, mother, and wife as a badge of honor, not something to be belittled. Daly's emotions fluctuate between devastation and hope. Through the course of the evening, she teeters on a nervous breakdown, only to gain strength from her memories and her bond with her son.

A stirring presence on the screen, Forster seems uncomfortable on the stage. He over-indicates and seems like he is reciting lines rather than mining the depths of his character. Kradolfer has good chemistry with Daly, and it's obvious they're playing close family, but like Forster, he never relaxes into the role and sounds like he's reading a script. His speaking tone doesn't modify enough to register as a fully formed character.

In the '70s and '80s, Alan and Marilyn Bergman had written songs for movies, particularly with composers Marvin Hamlisch (The Way We Were) and Michel Legrand (Yentl), which had evolved into timeless standards. Here they write five original songs with various composers that don't reach nearly the level that those classics did. Daniel Ionazzi's lighting captures a New England fall day creeping into the musky attic. Tony Fanning's fantastic Cape Cod-styled set is intricate and mood-enhancing.

As director, Ravetch doesn't find the necessary balance to make his own script seem innovative. The husband returning to impart wisdom to his widow has been overdone in all mediums. Chasing Mem'ries finds no new revelations and Ravetch directs his actors to slide toward oversentimentality, making the experience maudlin instead of inspiring.