I Can’t Remember Anything is the first production presented by the new Gerald Fried Theatre Company. The company was founded this year by brothers Manny and Gerald Fried, actress Rosalind Cramer, and playwright Rebecca Ritchie. Directed by Sheila McCarthy, the play features Manny Fried in the role of Leo and Rosalind Cramer in the role of Leonora.

Leonora is a beautifully dressed social butterfly who is frustrated by her memory lapses and discouraged by the knowledge that her husband and all of her friends except for Leo are deceased. At one point, Leonora says in frustration, “Sometimes I think I remembered something... I wonder if I’m imaginary.” Leo is more of an analytical person, who wants and seems to need time alone. He has very little tolerance for small talk or conversation that he perceives to be mindless chatter. “I like women. I just don’t like dumb women,” Leo tells Leonora, who wonders if perhaps he just doesn’t like women. As an old man, Leo needs his solitude more than ever. Leo also is very conscious of his physical limitations. He talks about suffering from “gas disease” and stress, and about the possibility of stroke.

Through the dialogue and the realistic acting by both performers, the two characters come to life. Both Leo and Leonora wonder about the point of their own existence. Leo comments, “All we are is a lot of talking nitrogen.” Leonora, who no longer receives party invitations, says, “I can’t for the life of me figure out why I haven’t died.” Their sadness at losing valuable parts of their lives weighs on them. In one poignant exchange, Leonora relates that she has forgotten about the spices that she used for cooking and, in fact, hardly remembers that she did cook. Leo gently reminds her about the rosemary that she used, sharing with her how tender her lamb and string beans were.

Kurt Schneiderman describes Mother Dis-Courage as “just another absurdist, neo-Brechtian, anti-imperialist extravaganza.” He created this one-act play as a loose takeoff of Bertold Brecht’s play, Mother Courage, about a woman who doesn’t want her sons to die in war while, at the same time, making her living from the continuation of that war. In Mother Dis-Courage, the characters are types, rather than realistic portrayals of people. At times, it seems that they are aware of the fact that they are characters in a play. The types include Mr. Moneybags (Donald Gallo), an employer who is focused on the bottom line to the detriment of his workers, Mother Dis-Courage (Kate Olena), a woman who doesn’t want her own son to die but who doesn’t seem to care if other people’s sons die, and Son Dis-Courage (Rich Kraemer), a confused young man who joined the military because Mr. Moneybags told him that he had to participate in “killing other people” and in “stealing their natural resources.”

“America is great because of money and killing!”

Mother Dis-Courage is a literary play, incorporating elements of Mother Courage and of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. Berthold Brecht (Keith Elkins) and Britney Spears (Jeannine Giftear) appear as narrator of the tale. Brecht’s obscure poetic recitations clash with Spear’s “narration” for the radio program, “All Things Belabored.” Later in the play, Brecht, carrying his chains, appears as a Jacob Marley type, warning Mother Dis-Courage of both her and her son’s potential fate. Brecht tells Mother Dis-Courage that she will be visited by the Ghosts of Imperialist Invasions of the past, present, and future. The ghosts turn out to be George Orwell (Emanuel Fried), John Lennon (Kevin Costa), and Paul McCartney (Ron Leonardi).

The dialogue in Mother Dis-Courage is pointed and topical. The issues brought up occupy the news headlines of today, and they include pre-emptive war, the abuse of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, video games, George W. Bush, prejudice against Arabs, and attitudes toward China. Despite the unpleasant reality of the issues brought up, the play never becomes tedious or tasteless. It always stays in the realm of political satire, and, as such, makes for far better entertainment than the daily newspaper. Presented by The Gerald Fried Theatre, Mother Dis-Courage, by Kurt Schneiderman, presented by the Subversive Theatre Collective Squeaky Wheel Media Arts Center, 175 Elmwood Avenue Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, through September 25

reviewed by Alice E. Gerard

Arthur Miller’s 1987 play, I Can’t Remember Anything, and Kurt Schneiderman’s work in progress, Mother Dis-Courage, are about as different as two plays could possibly be. Miller’s play is a character study of two individuals who are trying to come to grips with the physical and emotional difficulties associated with old age. Schneiderman’s play is wild political satire that cleverly and mercilessly attacks American assumptions about the state of the world.