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THEATER REVIEWS : Lamb's Actors Keep Subtle 'Memories' Alive : The San Diego troupe meets the demands of Arthur Giron's play in a performance that won't soon be forgotten.


NATIONAL CITY — No matter how fiercely we try to live our lives in the present, all of us swiftly are becoming memories--to our children, our nieces and nephews, to the offspring of our friends.

That sense of fleeting time is captured eloquently by "Becoming Memories," Arthur Giron's play about three generations of five sometimes-intersecting families in the Midwest.

The play, written in 1981 and inspired by true stories, was developed in collaboration with the Illusion Theatre Company in Minneapolis and has been presented by regional theaters across the country (South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa staged it in 1984). But Lamb's Players Theatre, which is giving the San Diego area premiere, is uniquely suited to the subtle demands of the script: Because this is one of the country's few troupe's with year-round ensemble actors, there is a shorthand of looks and gestures between company members that deepens the text.

Ten actors play more than 26 roles (including two ducks and fireworks). The cast always seems larger than it really is, filling and overflowing Michael Buckley's unfussy wooden set, punctuated poetically with empty picture frames hanging from the rafters.

Company artistic director Robert Smyth not only directs the production but gives a wrenching performance as Jack, a widower who marries his sister-in-law Margaret with great exuberance--but can never quite bring himself to tolerate her after that, even though she loves him desperately.

Smyth is well matched by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, his real-life wife who plays Margaret. Her passionate pain at his rejection provides some of the play's most harrowing moments.

Also fine are James Saba and Michelle Napolitano as a warring Jewish couple (whose grandson ends up marrying Jack's granddaughter by his first wife); Cynthia Peters and David Cochran Heath as Rosina and Albert, whose marriage deteriorates because of his jealousies and rigidity; and Leigh Scarritt and Doug Waldo as Ida and Henry, one of the few happy couples in the piece.

Veronica Murphy's pretty period costumes soften the harshness of some of the tales. C. Todd Brown's lighting segues seamlessly from the past (the action starts in 1912) to the present. The original music by Gilmour Smyth, co-arranged by her and on-stage fiddler Chris Vitas, is haunting.

The result is theater of the imagination of the highest order. There are no special effects--just acting so strong that it makes one think about all the other stories out there and about how little one knows of one's own journey to becoming a memory.

* "Becoming Memories," Lamb's Players Theatre, 500 Plaza Blvd., National City. Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. $16-$20. (619) 474-4542. Running time: 2 hours. Cynthia Peters: Rosina/Ida's Granddaughter/Mary Jo David Cochran Heath: Albert/Kenneth/Sam Deborah Gilmour Smyth: Margaret/Mrs. Patterson/Clara Robert Smyth: Jack/Judge Patterson Leigh Scarritt: Ida/Rosina's Mother Doug Waldo: Henry/William/Jerry Michelle Napolitano: Sophie/Linda James Saba: Oscar/Stephen Chrissy Vogele: Hannah/Rosina's Granddaughter/Alice Mark Howen: Jake/Rosina's Father/Michael

A production of the play by Arthur Giron, directed by Robert Smyth. Original music by Deborah Gilmour Smyth. Sets by Michael Buckley. Lights by C. Todd Brown. Costumes by Veronica Murphy. Choreography by Leigh Scarritt. Stage manager: Barbara Smith.

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