Ephemory opens with a tableau: A mother sits at a table working on her embroidery wheel. The father, dressed in a black suit, sits and smokes. Legs and frumpy dress splayed on the floor, the little sister plays with her doll. The big sister, Carole, waits eagerly at the table in her schoolgirl's finest. They chatter in their best German-Jewish accents in front of a giant projected Nazi flag, which changes at scene's end to show white text: "1937."
It's a frighteningly odd juxtaposition of daily life and Nazi terror, but its resonance fades as Ephemory runs its course. You expect a Holocaust drama to wrench your insides, but this production fails to provide such emotional torque. A one-act "coming of age/falling into age story," this semiautobiographical play by Miriam Feder revolves around Carole (Carolyn Marie Monroe), the elder sister from the play's first scene. Before World War II begins, Carole's parents ship her to the U.S., and Ephemory shows her babysitting, navigating the subway, shopping at Macy's and dancing with military officers. These sequences are cut with present-day scenes featuring an elderly Carole (Kaycheri Rappaport), who prepares to move into a retirement home with the help of her daughter Ruth (Alana Byington), a stand-in for Feder. As young Carole moves around the U.S. and aging Carole reflects, forgets and remembers her life, robotically mimed sequences mix these two plot lines.
Both Feder's script and director Debbie Lamedman's cast strive for emotional highs and lows, but Ephemory's tone can feel uneven. The acting is a bit forced, and an opening weekend production suffered from several missed cues. Chris Shields and David M. Brown are exceptions: Playing a host of wildly different and often comical characters, they have no trouble shifting between the many accents (New York Jewish, Texan, Connecticuter) Feder requires of her actors.
In scripting herself into the play, Feder shows admirable honesty—this is no saintly revision of the past, and Ruth can be pushy and naive to her mother's history. If you're feeling nostalgic, Ephemory just might get through to you, but it tends to cloy. "I wish I could take your memories like a movie," Ruth says to her mother at one point. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I can't say I felt the same.
SEE IT: Ephemory is at the Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., No. 9, 289-3499. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 15-17; 2 pm Sunday, Nov. 18. Through Nov. 25 (visit theheadwaters.net for additional performances). $15.