If Manhattan is Woody Allen’s love letter to New York City, then Rebecca Fisher’s new work is her love letter to Memphis.
If Fisher’s name sounds familiar, it might be because she was just at the Marsh directing Mark Kenward’s Nantucket. Nantucket is as full of the New England shore as it is the growing tragedy that drives the story forward. If Kenward’s story is carried on mists over the New England coast, Fisher’s Memphis on my Mind is redolent with the still, odoriferous southern air, and the smell of things growing old. Like how Memphis, Egypt sits on the river Nile, she points out, her Memphis is also on a river. Things move slowly. People and situations don’t really change – and when they do, it’s rarely for the better.
Fisher’s slight frame, animated features, and incisively articulated movements reassure at the outset you’re not wasting your time here. In the very beginning, she romances her audience with a rapid series of one-killers about Memphis being a FedEx town, making it a very unromantic center of national distribution whose railroad tracks were a place where wealth and poverty collide. Her lines hit their target with an enviable precision, such as her one about Perkins being a step up from Denny’s, but not quite Appleby’s.
However, you’re quickly aware that she’s more than just a series of clever lines. This one-woman show is populated with a handful of characters, so you start watching for the small gesture – a pursing of the lips or a flurry of hands popping in a cassette tape – that mark her transition from one character to the next. It’s in these spaces, where the magic happens, that you realize how good she really is.
This is Memphis, and Fisher takes pains to point out that it doesn’t share Knoxville’s redneck whiteness. Fisher crosses boundaries, slipping first into the skin of Sarah Mackey, the elderly black maid who raised her mother, and then into that of Mackey’s son, who plays it so loose you know he’ll be another black male statistic. However, Fisher’s love of these characters feels more like going home – which is precisely what she’s doing. Responsibility politics are ultimately left on the curb.
Memphis on My Mind is not without flaws. Parts need to be trimmed, and others developed further. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we see of this piece because I want to see those people again.
Just like Nantucket, Memphis on my Mind comes with dinner. Options include everything from southern fried chicken and catfish from Grégoire. The Marsh is a place where things grow. You’ll want to spend some time here.