At several points in “Rose” — Martin Sherman’s one-woman show on stage through Nov. 1 at the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls — the title character, in the middle of recalling a memory that is becoming painful, disavows it.
“I don’t remember,” she says. “Perhaps I imagined it.”
She might have lived through a pogrom in her tiny shtetl in Ukraine. Or it might just be a memory borrowed from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
She might have survived a brutal crackdown in the Warsaw Ghetto. Then again, who knows?
“I don’t remember the ghetto,” she says, having just recounted a story from that place.
Memories are tricky.
Still, some memories can’t be turned off so easily, and those memories clearly haunt Rose.
Based in part on the experiences of the playwright’s grandmother, “‘Rose” tracks a life of pain and determination, from Ukraine to Warsaw to Palestine and Germany. And on to America.
Each leg of the journey leads to another place where Rose doesn’t feel she fits in.
“I don’t belong,” she says again and again.
Here, after 80 years, Rose is sitting shiva, the Jewish ritual of mourning. She sits on a low, hard, wooden bench throughout.
She sits and talks, remembers and chooses not to remember.
Annie McGreevey — seen on Broadway in “Sweet Charity” and “Company” — plays Rose in a performance that has flashes of humor, rage, horror and humanity.
(“Rose” came to Broadway in 2000, starring Olympia Dukakis.)
Director Jamie Winnick’s staging allows McGreevey to rise only rarely, making for a static stage picture. McGreevey is equally tied down by the story, which peaks at the end of Act 1 and goes downhill from there.
Other one-person plays have had little stage movement — “The Year of Magical Thinking” comes to mind — but Joan Didion’s writing was more compelling and artful than Sherman’s. In paying tribute to his grandmother, Sherman seems to find it a challenge to leave anything out.
The first act is full of dramatic and horrifying episodes and closes with a scene that director Winnick makes cinematic and effective, unlike anything preceding it or following it. (David Pentz’s lights add greatly.)
After the wild ride of act one, the second act seems like a long denouement, more talk than action, as Rose continues to search for her place in the world.
For more than two hours, in a feat of memorization and characterization that is to be commended, McGreevey breathes life into a character who — despite a wretched past — scoffs at talk of “the future.”
She talks emotionally about her harrowing journey on the Exodus 1947, a refugee-laden ship bound for Palestine that was denied access to the Holy Land by British forces. Eventually, the passengers were put on another ship and returned to Germany.
But, as with McGreevey’s accent, which seemed to come and go, Sherman’s story wears thin. A plot twist near the end of Act 2 — set in a gift shop in Arizona — seems to stretch disbelief beyond all willing suspension.
The Schoolhouse production values are first-rate.
Ken Larson’s Miami Beach set is painted a dusty rose with a band of aqua as an accent. The shapes are geometric, with two cylindrical walls flanking a large archway. The only furniture to speak of is that much-used bench from which Rose rarely budges.
When memories are triggered, Pentz’s lights signal the change. When Rose recounts one particularly gripping experience, she begins just on the edge of a channel of light and then plunges herself into the harsh light and we see her in full.
Memories are tricky.
Rose is a memorable character well-performed — by an actress with a remarkable memory — in a less-than-memorable play.
Next at the Schoolhouse: David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Kimberly Akimbo” in March.
When: Weekends through Nov. 1. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Schoolhouse Theater, 3 Owens Road, Croton Falls.
Tickets: $30 for Thursdays and Fridays; $32 on Saturdays and Sundays. Discounts for subscribers.
Photo by Ron Marotta: Annie McGreevey stars in “Rose,” Martin Sherman’s play about his Ukrainian-born mother and her journey to America. The show runs through Nov. 1 at the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls.