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Keepsake Has All the Drama but No Drive

I wanted to love Keepsake, a new offering by award-winning playwright Gregory Beam, and I almost did. Keepsake is almost a hard hitting, darkly funny look at the issues confronting modern, American families. Sisters Abra and Samara are back in their childhood home to bury their father and, through their conversations and a series of well-timed and well-presented flashbacks, we learn the secrets that plague this family and how they play out in the sisters' adult lives. Beam's script keeps us focused on the home and the nuances of family life while Katie Bellman's kitchen is a perfect left-over-from-the-80s, New England kitchen complete with light oak cabinetry and a giant, American style fridge. Unfortunately, the set is the strongest element of this production, even though Dilek Rose, as Abra, and Lou Broadbent, Samara, do their best to wade through the script which goes from dull and uninteresting in the first act to wildly dramatic and unbelievable in the second.

Lou Broadbent as Samara and Dilek Rose as Abra

Beam's dialogue is sharp, witty and evidence of some of America's best one-liners. S gets most of the comedic lines and she delivers in a way that keeps the audience laughing. Abra is left as the foil to her funnier, sexier and more damaged sister and, despite a valiant effort, Rose never quite manages to lift her character above the weak lines she has. Instead, she mopes around the kitchen like a dog waiting to be kicked. Danny's voicemails on Samara's phone are much more interesting than anything Abra ever says.

Perhaps the true flaw in this play is that it tries to do too much. Not content with one questions, the work tries to address immigration, rape, family dynamics, adoption, sibling relationships, marital breakdown, alcoholism, stalking, divorce, poverty, religion, religious tensions in the US, infidelity and more. Of course, all of these themes are present in American life, but the job of literature and art is to shine the spotlight on issues. Keepsake's spotlight is weakened because it has to be shone from so far away to encompass all these questions. Beam's desire to bring all of these societal issues into the kitchen of a working class city is admirable, but doesn't quite come off in the end.

Dilek Rose as Abra and James Corscadden as Danny
I talk a lot on this blog about the idea of home and the effect of places on people and on art, so I jumped at the chance to see a play set just outside the city in which I grew up. Unfortunately, this play could have been set in any small city in the US. There was nothing to indicate that it was Lowell, MA other than the characters make explicit reference to it. That and the rather suspect Boston accents.

People doing bad accents is one of my pet peeves, especially if that accent is Irish or Bostonian. Danny's (James Corscadden) accent is the best of the bunch but it is inconsistent. Imperfect accents can be forgiven, but mispronouncing place names cannot be. Now I realise that this is England and that Woburn and Framingham were places in England before they were towns in Massachusetts. So maybe there's some a priori claim to pronunciation, but the characters in this place aren't be concerned with that. They'd say "Woburn" and "Framingham" the way New Englanders do. In itself, pronunciation isn't the be-all and end-all of a performance but it indicates a failure to research appropriately.

A good and for the most part witty attempt, but Keepsake doesn't quite make the grade.

Keepsake is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 25 January 2014. Tickets are £10 to £16 and can be booked online.