Memories of Viola, Artistic Home. Suppose Romeo and Juliet hadn’t been cut down in their teens. Suppose they’d met and married without any unusual controversy, grown old together, gotten to know each other’s bad habits, conducted their little betrayals–had, in short, the standard chance to get good and sick of each other the way old married couples do. Suppose the star-crossed part of their story hadn’t kicked in until they’d already lived out most of their lives together. That’s the premise of James Danek’s new play. Or put it this way: I hope it’s the premise, but I can’t be sure because Memories of Viola is so heavily tricked out with sidelights, conceits, and bits of local color that a premise can easily get lost.
Viola is a small-town Wisconsin matron whose husband, Otto, committed suicide a little over a year ago. Now she talks to him as if he were still alive, recalls their troubled courtship, and quotes passages from her beloved Romeo and Juliet. It’s clear that she’s contemplating at leisure what Juliet decides in a bare few minutes.
But not clear enough. Rather than give this resonant, potentially devastating story the straightforward telling it deserves, Danek dilutes it with useless gimmicks and slapped-on revelations. One big for instance is his decision not to tell us that Otto’s dead until well into the play, a choice that provides a mild, momentary surprise but makes absolutely no difference to the work.