Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox and Facility

Hurrah for Minnesota Fringe Festival remounts! More, please!

The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox, presented and created by The Winding Sheet Outfit and Facility, presented by Imagined Theatre both appeared on our Don't Miss Fringe 2017 list and are now showing at the Sabes JCC through November 19th.


The first act of this double feature is the fascinating and true story of the Fox Sisters, who accidentally founded the Spiritualism movement in the 1800s. From the moment you step up to the seating area set up right on the stage, and see the performance space encircled by empty picture frames and music boxes, and a mysterious black-veiled woman (Amber Bjork, also the director) arranging candles, the mood is so set.

This is an unbelievably gorgeous and thoroughly conceived show. The relationship between the sisters is authentic, rich and, at times, light and funny. The sisters are depicted in their youth by Boo Segersin and Kayla Dvorak Feld; Kristina Fjellman and Megan Campbell Lagas play their older versions. The interplay between both sets of sisters, and between the older and younger versions themselves is beautifully done.

Every element of this show works to perfection. The movement and the physicality of this small-set play, particularly in the scenes where the sisters are 'speaking' with the spirits and the seances, creates a gorgeous mood, and amazingly memorable imagery. The spare music, from the aforementioned music boxes, contributes to this mood, and the cast sings a gorgeous, five-part version of "In the Gloaming" that will give you chills. Even the spare, authentic costuming is perfectly done.

We can't say enough good things. Go see it. Bring your sister.

On to Facility... Interestingly, both of these plays could have easily fit into the Twin Cities Horror Festival--for wildly different reasons. Let's get into it.



We returned from a short intermission (spent admiring a fantastic art display of Scary Monsters--see above--by fourth graders) to a stage featuring little other than a hospital bed. After a blackout, the lights come up and we find Lionel (Paul Brissett) in bed receiving a visit from his wife Dorothy. His next visitor is nurse Jeff, who works for the care home in which Lionel is currently residing due to his dementia.

We see Lionel struggling with his memory and his helplessness, his daughter Rachel struggling with the decision to put Lionel in this facility, and administrator Fran and nurse Jeff struggle with staffing issues and all of them struggling with the incredible challenges that dementia can bring.

This show is harrowing. There's no other word for it. Directed and written by Phil Darg, this play brings up a lot of issues with no easy answers and depicts the challenges incredibly realistically. As hard as it was to watch--and if you have a loved one struggling with dementia or have lost someone to an unexpected illness, it will be incredibly hard--it's a valuable story to tell.

Paul Brissett gives an astonishing performance as Lionel. He inhabited this difficult role with utter and complete commitment and made you feel all of the love and the frustration that his caregivers feel for him. It's one of the most amazing performances I've seen all year, and landed immediately on my short list for the 2017 Twin Cities Theater Blogger Awards.

Public service announcement from Carol:

If you are caring for someone with dementia, there is help available. I work with an organization called Roseville Alzheimers & Dementia Community Action Team, which provides community information, programming and helpful resources at your local library for those with dementia and their caregivers. Check out their amazingly helpful website for more information.

I also highly recommend a couple of books:

A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Using Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms by Laura Gitlin
This fairly slim and not remotely intimidating book helps caregivers find ways to manage the symptoms of dementia. Filled with incredibly simple and practical advice, this is a must-have for anyone working, caring for, or loving someone with dementia. SO highly recommended.

As Brackey says: "When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. We are not able to create perfectly wonderful days for people with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we can create perfectly wonderful moments, moments that put a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Five minutes later, they will not remember what we did or said, but the feeling that we left them with will linger." Lionel's daughter Rachel really needs to read this book.

Public service announcement over. Thanks for listening.