A Christmas Memory/ Winter Song

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 6, 2017

A Christmas Memory/ Winter Song

On Sunday afternoon, you could find me snuggled into an intimate theater holding my husband's hand and trying to hold back tears. Every few minutes in "A Christmas Memory/Winter Song," another line or phrase or melody twanged a memory, and I melted a little more.

A combination of spoken-word performance and rustic cabaret featuring music about bonds strained by distance, "A Christmas Memory/Winter's Song" weaves reminiscence with performance in a charming, wholesome and endearing collage. From the log-cabin-esque set to the softly falling snow, the mood upon entering is warm and inviting.

The two main performers, Merideth Kaye Clark and Leif Norby, roam the audience, chatting and asking people about their memories of winter. On the upright piano in one corner, music director Mont Chris Hubbard plays gently, and a balsam incense log cabin-just like the one from my childhood-puffs along on top of the piano. It's like walking into someone's living room for a fireside storytelling and singalong.

Soon Norby starts the show with Truman Capote's essay "A Christmas Memory," Capote's recollection from his early childhood of an unexpected and simple friendship based on mutual understanding and the love of delicious secrets. It is a tender evocation of the excitement of preparing for Christmas, especially preparations of homemade items for well-loved friends. The practice of saving monies and gathering materials and secretly, gigglingly plotting the when and how of construction and delivery captures the heart of holiday excitement.

Norby, whose extensive credits include multiple roles in "Astoria," a shape-shifting turn in "Wild and Reckless," and the austere doctor in "In the Next Room," is equal to Capote's effortless and musical prose. Lines like "Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds," and "Abner... exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh" rise from Norby as if from his own thoughts. Norby has a gift for becoming whoever he's playing, in this case, the genteel Southerner with a lilting accent and a keen observational mind.

Merideth Kaye Clark, whose beautiful and faithful recreation of Joni Mitchell's "Blue" happened at The Armory a couple of years ago, takes the lead for the rest of the show. A compilation of songs about longing, loneliness and going home, "Winter Song" travels the length of long winter nights wishing for the warmth of loved ones. From Carole King to Simon and Garfunkel to her original songs, Clark sings true thoughts into music, her warm and expressive soprano filling the room. The rich color of her voice lends itself perfectly to the seasonal music, inviting the listener to sink into their thoughts and feelings. It's less a concert than a shared meditation on the season.

Clark and Norby team up on several songs, one harmonizing for the other, an appealing mingling of voices. Norby's trembling tenor is a suitable foil for Clark's Broadway chops, and their balanced duet bubbles along charmingly. His performance of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night" was a gentle thread of thought, and my decorous husband gripped my hand the entire time, entranced by the subtle and effective harmony and simple delivery of one of his favorite songs. When the duo wrapped with "Homeward Bound," the room was filled with thoughts of winters past and loved ones waiting for a warm embrace.

Please visit Clark and Norby this season at the Ellyn Bye Studio Theatre, drink a cider or glass of wine, tell them your favorite winter memories and enjoy an evening of story and song. It's a happy and satisfying way to spend a chilly afternoon, a pause in a season fraught with activity, and a gentle way to reconnect with happy memories. Before you find your seats, please tell them I said hello.

"A Christmas Memory/Winter Song" runs through December 31 at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW Eleventh Ave, Portland, OR 97209. For tickets and information, call 503-445-3700 or go to https://www.pcs.org/winter

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.