Memory House

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Memory House

by Katheen Tolan


In this 90 minute play, the baking of the pie takes place in real time on stage, as does the unfolding of this intimate story. Prize-winning playwright Kathleen Tolan examines the complex negotiations that characterize the relationship between parents and teenage children, the global ties that connect adopted children with birth places and international events, and the anguish and guilt we feel when we know our actions have or will hurt someone we love.



Plot and Characters


It’s New Year’s Eve. Maggie, a former dancer turned office worker, attempts to bake a blueberry pie. Her only child, Russian-born Katia, struggles to write an autobiographical college application essay. As the clock ticks down to the essay’s midnight postmark deadline, they engage in a tense standoff over their differing philosophies of life. Unexamined issues of the girl’s adoption from a Russian orphanage, her parents divorce, and the fear of leaving home break through the surface as the mother cajoles, deflects, and maneuvers around her own feelings of loss.




Opening & Closing Dates

Type & Version


MaY 17, 2005 – May 29, 2005
Play / Original

Playwrights Horizons New York, NY


Original Cast


Dianne Wiest …. Maggie

Natalia Zvereva …. Katia


Production Staff

Loy Arcenas …. Scenic Designer

Elizabeth Hope Clancy …. Costume Designer

Jane Cox …. Lighting Designer

Jill B.C. Du Boff …. Sound Designer

David Esbjornson …. Director




Anyone who has ever sent a child off to college knows that the process is no picnic. First comes the phase of active alienation, in which the almost-adult picks fights and criticizes every aspect of your being — all in the interest, presumably, of individuating so as to separate. Handle this challenge well enough, and the form that success takes is loss.

In Kathleen Tolan’s insightful “Memory House,” enjoying an exemplary production at Chelsea’s TheatreZone, the already-fraught situation is exacerbated by the fact that Katia (Becca A. Lewis ), living up to her public persona as a blase Manhattan teen, has apparently waited till the very last minute — New Year’s Eve, the postmark deadline — to compose her application essay. As she fumes and balks, her mother, Maggie (Suzanne Ramczyk ), a former dancer and recent divorcee, must maneuver adroitly if she wants to further the preferred outcome. Too much encouragement could backfire. Still, Maggie can’t help trying — goonily at times, borderline masochistically, but always lovingly.

As Katia alternately blasts expletive-riddled rap and drapes herself creatively about the furniture (Lewis captures teen postures without a hint of caricature), Maggie goes against type — she’s no happy homemaker — and semi-ironically embarks on baking a blueberry pie. “Skill in pastrymaking has been known worldwide as a passport to matrimony,” she reads bemusedly from “Joy of Cooking.”

As the night progresses — 90 minutes of real time, long enough for enticing aromas to waft from the fully functional stove — Katia releases just enough of her volcanic rage to let her mother know what’s actually roiling within. As an adopted child, plucked from a Russian orphanage at age 6, Katia feels like a commodity (“I’m your loot”). She’s also furious that her earliest memories — the topic of the writing exercise required for that infernal essay — are lost to her. The few relics retained from that time are useless, devoid of meaning. Maggie must lead her back and talk her through the childhood that they did share. And within that reconciliation of realities, there’s hope of moving on.

Toland’s script is vivid and lively, laden with specifics — like the noisy Rice Krispies whose crackling and popping terrified the young immigrant — and with laughs. Trinity Repertory Company originally commissioned the play, but what with Oskar Eustis’s departure for New York’s Public Theater and an acclaimed 2005 off-Broadway production starring Dianne Wiest , didn’t get around to scheduling it until the upcoming season (it opens Nov. 30 ). You could wait — or rush over to Chelsea, to catch this near-perfect regional premiere.

Ramczyk doesn’t go quite deep enough into the role: She plays up Maggie’s chipper and bitter sides but gives little sign of the broken spirit bound to afflict a middle-age woman blindsided by divorce. Katia has seen this wounded aspect, and concern for Maggie’s future only adds to her fury — and her ambivalence about leaving. When not spewing, Katia is resolutely tight-mouthed and must speak volumes with her narrowed eyes and dismissive shrugs. Lewis is brilliant and absolutely believable. You might not enjoy having Katia at home, but onstage she’s riveting.

By Sandy MacDonald, Globe Correspondent | April 16, 2007




1. Globe Newspaper Company Sandy Macdonald 2007