Sacrifice and Cultural Conflict in “Memorial”

Photo credit: Kalman Zabarsky

Photo credit: Kalman Zabarsky

Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre & Boston University College of Fine Arts School and Theatre
By Livian Yeh
Directed by Kelly Galvin

October 13-23, 2016
Boston, MA
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre on Facebook
Boston University New Play Initiative

Review by Travis Manni

(Boston, MA) I’ve never seen the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and never been to DC for that matter, but the storytelling in Livian Yeh’s Memorial is strong enough to make me believe I have.

Memorial is about a college-aged woman named Maya Lin (Amy Ward), an inexperienced architect, whose design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is selected as the winning concept for the memorial’s construction. Though an unusual design, described as a scar in the earth, Maya is worthy of this honor, having put a great deal of thought into the multi-faceted project and with the goal of maintaining historical integrity—she wants the memorial to reflect the truth of the war, no sugar-coating.

True though her intentions are, Maya receives backlash from veterans, represented in the character of Col. James Becker (John Kooi). Becker believes that, due to her age, inexperience, gender, and race, Maya is not only unqualified to undertake on the memorial’s construction, but in doing so, is directly insulting the American people, its history, and the veterans that served and died in the war. Despite the setbacks, including public ridicule and the suspension of her license, Maya’s determination is unyielding.

What I latched onto most strongly in Amy Ward’s depiction of Maya Lin was her kindness and honesty. She managed to stand firm by her design while facing backlash and put genuine thought into her concept. While not only standing up to prejudices, Ward manages to convincingly defy the wishes of Maya’s mother, Julia Lin (Roxanne Morse), a daring and courageous task in itself.

There is also a scene involving Becker, Maya, and her mother that crafts phenomenal tension, the likes of which I’ve never experienced before in theatre. During the scene, the audience watches as Becker, the antagonist, sits through the traditional practice of tea drinking and is forced to participate through Julia’s sheer matriarchical power.

Despite the fact that this scene worked so well, though it did drag on a couple minutes longer than necessary, the forward motion of the plot became quite drowned out because of Becker’s stagnant views. The biggest obstacle that Maya faced throughout the memorial’s construction was Becker, and he kept returning with the same exact points for why he despised her design. His reasons, though relevant to the shared mindset of the time period, were repetitive and tiring, as if he could have walked in with the same PowerPoint presentation three or four times and the audience was expected to keep falling for it.

As far as the set, the design for a play titled Memorial needs to be pretty spot on. The simplicity of Mary Sader’s design was obvious, a twisting white wall of boards spaced out and spanning from floor to ceiling, and it’s also what made it so brilliant. It was the perfect representational backdrop to

mirror the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—a wall that enclosed the audience, forcing them to dig deeper and deeper into the heart of the show, just as Maya says one has to dig deeper into the earth to find the names of those who died on the stretching wall.

What makes Memorial such a treat is that it acknowledges cultural differences and finds a way to make something beautiful from putting them in conflict with each other. The characters in it learn about compromise and realize the benefits reaped from sacrifice. We should all learn to be courageous enough to kill our own cherry blossoms.

Memorial runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here

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