A Memorable (Literally) Experience at Arlington

At the start of last September, I wasn’t so sure about this resurgence of the memory play. But after seeing knockout after knockout, I hope there are more to come. With the recently-open Arlington at the Vineyard Theatre, we may not get a memory play structure-wise, but we get a great show that plays into the idea that one’s own memory could be a fantastic plot device in theatre...and for theatre-lovers.

There’s just something fascinating about having your protagonist sort through his/her history, thoughts, perspective, opinions…ANYTHING, that can creep into one’s train of thought and upend a character as we know him/her. If such a term could be use, I would describe Arlington as a “sort-of memory opera.” Whereas Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie or Alison in Fun Home address the audience and then have their memories brought to life on stage (and may even take part in the reenactment), Arlington is a sung-through one-woman, one-act show, just with an added pianist in the backdrop to provide the music and a few temporary characters (as if they exist in her mind).

We watch Sara Jane, a military wife, invite the audience into her home and directly address us like we’re guests dropping in on an old friend. And let me tell you…Miss Sara has quite the stream of consciousness. It’s actually where I was sold on the show - she just kept going and going (and going. and going.) and expects the audience to keep up with her no matter where her mind ventures off to. She starts with how she likes sunshine (“If I lived in a cloudy place, I’d probably shoot myself!), moves on to a dream where she is eating a leaf and might have been a caterpillar in a past life (or something). Um, she talks sings about her relationship with her husband, their goodbye before his departure overseas, her mother visiting post-plastic surgery ("she sort of looked like an Asian person!”), her brief stint in singing and song-writing when she was a teenager…and like a couple dozen other things. I mean, wouldn’t you?

I am a sucker for good piano orchestrations (shocking, I know), and Polly Pen’s music helps add dimension to the story, pulling out tension and euphoric emotion with each note. During a few breaks in Sara Jane’s singing, the piano not only fills the silence, but it furthers the story and builds the next scene when she starts up again…just like great music is supposed to. More often then not, the piano - which is the only instrument used, by the way - took my breath away and I was totally immersed. And paired with Victor Lodato’s contemporary book and lyrics, the whole package is there. It was in-sync and gorgeous to hear these words come out of Alexandra Silber’s mouth (which reminds me, more on her later).

I’m just realizing how much I love the name Sara Jane and how excited I am that I get to type it. It’s the little things that matter.

Anyways, Lodato makes a mountain out of a molehill story-wise with Sara Jane starting to fumble with her own memory. She develops a slow, but palpable anguish as she talks about her experience in Arlington (which translates to “the tomb of the undead soldier,” according to her). Her mind begins to unravel and her perspective becomes increasingly unassured, if not, flat-out harrowed regarding war, her family, her husband’s exploits overseas, her current state of mind, you name it. Let’s just say that by the time the lights goes down, we got a fully-realized character, with a complete story to boot. All in one hour’s time. Mind. Blown. That’s quite a feat, especially considering 97% of Arlington is one girl singing to the audience with a piano accompanying her.

But it is not just any girl singing and performing…it’s our new favorite homegirl, Alexandra Silber. I know I was going to like her just by looking at the Arlington program - with flower petals falling down a close-up of her face, I couldn’t help but think that she is one stunningly pretty girl. And when she takes the stage - in a floral-print dress and cardigan combo, j*adore! - she went right to work and delivered a lovely performance, part “girl next door” and part "Judy Garland at the opera.” Seriously, when she sings, she is in total control - it's like her feelz just awash over the audience and allure us with her charm. Sara Jane has quite the arc and Silber just knew what she was doing at every vignette and every character moment, effectively displaying the most subtle changes of heart and mind.

Despite not relating to the experiences of Sara Jean, I relate to the manner in which she deals with it, in perfect memory play-esque fashion (I’m sorry…”memory opera”-like fashion). Of course, I keep thinking of that line in The Glass Menagerie, “In memory, everything seems to happen to music.” How can I not think of that when the (fantastic) music is a big part in Sara Jane’s story?!

Aren’t we, as readers and theatre-goers, living out our own memory plays? Whenever we see a show or read something amazing or reflect on something personal, we sort out our thoughts - some, like myself, may even write about them! - and take into account who we are, what we stand for, our perspective on a myriad of things, our life stories, our evolutions, etc. The most powerful of texts and shows can alter our perspective as we know it. Arlington, for all of its great moments, is most memorable to me as it supports the idea of “a person’s memory" in theatre...that our memory, for better or worse, can shape our path, tell and retell a story and maybe even constructively (and continuously) challenge our perspective in a way interacting with others (and by extension, society) can’t.

I’m thinking about all of this so many days after seeing Arlington…so clearly, the show has done its job.

Ticket provided by the production

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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