Pushing Daisies Past Cliches

We are welcomed to Paul Everett Tarsus’ memorial service. There is a simple array of four chairs occupied by the friends of the deceased. An intricate flower arrangement, curiously reminiscent of something you would see on the Addams’ mantelpiece, adorns the stage’s background.

Actor Nehemiah Luckett, steps on the podium to say a few words in honor of the beloved Paul Tarsus Jr., a local theater artist and teacher. Luckett informs the audience — who is not merely a theater audience but also attendees to the memorial — of Paul Jr.’s love for the “Theater of Memory,” a movement embraced by playwrights in an attempt to use the power of memory as a narrative device.

Luckett’s speech is short, and soon we are introduced to Paul’s father, Reverend Paul Caleb Tarsus, portrayed by Trai Byers DRA ’11. Paul Tarsus Sr. is a flailing old man, who is at first unresponsive to Luckett’s persona’s calls to take the stage. Seemingly overwhelmed by the loss of his son, Paul is struggling to get on stage and has to heavily lean on his cane to carry out this apparently insurmountable task.

Soon after Rev. Tarsus takes the stage, we gradually transition to his memories. We roam into the Georgian South of his youth where he helped his father at the local school. Paul Jr., a brilliant and pupil and teacher, soon felt constrained by the limitations of rural Georgia and wished to pursue his education at divinity school. However, this surprisingly angered his father, who wished that Paul Jr. would stay to help out at the school, telling him that “funerals are fleeting,” meaning that we only have one chance to speak well of a loved one, a chance that never again presents itself. Rev. Tarsus carries on and remembers his move to New Haven, as well as the resulting conflict that arose from that move, the apex of it being a massive row with his future wife Eula, portrayed by Taylor Vaughn-Lasley ’12, who blames him for leaving and not attending his own father’s funeral.

The play concludes when Rev. Tarsus drifts away from his “theater of memory” and returns to his son’s memorial. He seems confused; it might be the senility old age or the overwhelming fact that his son has just died, but the stream of memories that parades before our eyes is not insignificant in making us understand Rev. Tarsus’ mindset.

The script is solid, even though some of its parts are somewhat convoluted. It does not effectively avoid cliches, and you wonder if writer Meg Miroshnik DRA ’11 intentionally chose to do so. Phrases such as “a place he attended religiously” in Luckett’s introductory speech are intentionally emphasized, perhaps in order to highlight how prone we are to resort to cliches and cheap laughs in situations as emotionally charged as this one.

The four white-clad figures as the play progressed came to interact in complex ways with each other either and Rev. Tarsus as parts of Paul’s subconscious or as players in his “theater of memory.” Director Andrew Kelsey DRA ’11 managed to convey to the audience the interactions between these figures, heavily aided by the great lighting, which helped clarify the participants’ capacity in each scene, which could be somewhat confusing.

The play’s specific mood was also greatly aided by the white outfits of the memorial’s attendees. White has a transparency and otherworldliness to it, which, while being reminiscent of the funeral practices of the Far East, helped convey the eerie atmosphere of the play.

The light design is quite ingenious since it is used as a transition mechanism and perhaps as a metaphor of the Rev. Paul Caleb Tarsus’ state of mind. When overwhelmed by his son’s death and perhaps the sudden realization of said death, the theater is flooded by sultry white light, while when the reverend drifts into his theater of memory, the intensity of the light is tuned down, sort of like a correlation to the reverend’s gradual detachment from his surroundings.

However macabre and unsettling the play’s setting might be, by the conclusion of the piece you have come to appreciate the obscure connection between memory and reality. Clocking in at little over an hour, “Good Words” uncovers the thoughts of an infirm old man, haunted by his past decisions: something that all of us can relate to.

Comments