Real Life: The Musical! // By Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer
Actor Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer and her mother “co-star” in a two-hander in a role that Leslie knows all too well.
MUSICALS! REAL LIFE! DEMENTIA!
No one likes to write about dementia let alone your experience with a loved one going through dementia. Even as I type the word it feels like it should be in all caps like—DEMENTIA!—because that’s how it feels. It’s terrifying and heartbreaking and makes you question if there is a God or something out there. Who is driving the bus of life? Wow, we are already starting off with a bang! MUSICALS! YES! DEMENTIA! YES! MUSICALS ABOUT DEMENTIA? Now, we’re talking. I’m sorry for all the caps. Moving on.
For those of you who are already over this—totally cool to click out now. Trust me, I get it. After this year, who the hell wants to talk about anything depressing? So go ahead and buy that thing from Amazon or eat that pizza. Life is short. The rest of you, come with me. Now we discuss the musical I did about the D word. See? I gave you a break there.
The Memory Show is a two-person musical by Zach Redler and Sara Cooper which opened at Transport Group on April 15, 2013. The story centers around a daughter who moves back in with her mother after the mother has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The production was directed by Joe Calarco and featured me as the daughter and Catherine Cox as the mother. The relationship between the mother and daughter characters in the show is not a good one. Mother is declining, angry, desperate, clinging to memory. Daughter is sad, resentful, wants love, desperate to understand the past, lonely, hopeless.
Fun fact: Four years after the closing of The Memory Show, my mother, Lucy, would be diagnosed with Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia.
2013—The Memory Show
DAUGHTER (to Mother)
When the doctor diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s—
Now you look. You can bemoan your oh-so-terrible childhood all you want—although, frankly, I gave you food and shelter, and all the love I had, and you know that’s true—but please, do not lie about me.
* * * * *
Joe Calarco knew that doing these scenes over and over for hours a day wasn’t possible. We took breaks. I broke down during songs and had to leave it at that. Sparring with Catherine Cox was not only fun, but cathartic. It would be the only time that I could act out what would become true. I would learn that I missed the real-life fights. The real-life jabs. The looks, the insults, and the fierce suspicion my mother carried as a badge of honor.
A small bare room, wood paneling, terrible fluorescent lighting in a doctor’s office in Englewood, NJ.
Lucy, you have Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia. It is a progressive disease.
Is there any treatment?
It’s a progressive disease. There is no timeline and no cure.
I’m so sorry Mom.
(beat) He’s a fucking liar.
2013—The Memory Show
The doctor, you know, has been treating her for a while now and he’s been telling me to put her in a home. But, um, I really don’t want to. So, I haven’t. But the doctor said I can’t watch her well enough now. Which, um—well, I think I’m watching her really closely, actually, so I don’t really…I don’t really know…what to make of the whole thing.
I sat in the lawyer’s office and signed paperwork to be my mother’s power of attorney. I saw the writing on the wall and was advised to get everything in order. Mom signed willingly but was once again suspicious.
The lawyer pulled me aside and said, “Your mother won’t accept help until she has no choice.” I knew what he meant. That day came not too long after.
September 28, 2018—Washington, D.C.
I stepped out of the SoulCycle in Georgetown sweaty and exhausted, but happy. It was a few weeks since we had been in D.C. for the pre-Broadway tryout of Beetlejuice. It was a beautiful fall day and my castmate, Dana Steingold, and I decided to swing inside a cute little boutique real quick before heading back to our apartment building before tech rehearsal at The National Theatre. As I walked around the store looking at clothes, I remembered that my Mom was getting a couch delivered that I had I ordered for her before I left town. I also made sure before I left, she was set up with an aide to visit and help her. She had been losing weight and I wanted to make sure she had someone keeping an eye on her. I figured I would call and see if the couch had come and if the aide had shown up. The phone rang and my mother answered. She sounded out of it and weak. I asked her if she was home, and she said yes. Her voice was spacey and not clear. In that moment, I heard the distinct bell that her car makes when the door is open.
“Mom…where are you?”
“Mom, that’s your car. Where are you?”
“I’m in the car.”
My heart sank. Something was not right.
“Mom, where are you?”
“I’m trying to find Sam’s and I’m lost.”
“Mom, you’re supposed to be home for the couch and the aide is coming.”
“Mom…do you see Sam’s?”
“Ok, get out of the car and go over and give him the phone when you get inside.”
This part of the story gets fuzzy because time stopped. Everyone in the boutique was frozen. The only thing I heard was my mother’s breathing on the other end of the phone.
“Hello?” Sam said.
“Sam, this is Leslie, Lucy’s daughter. What is going on? My mom seems to be out of it.”
“Oh, she came to bring me her car to fix.”
“Wait, did something happen to it?”
“Oh yeah…she didn’t tell you? She got into an accident a couple weeks ago. Messed it up pretty bad.”
“Sam. Listen to me. Something isn’t right. She never told me she got into an accident. She’s acting strange. Take her keys now and I’ll call an Uber to come and get her. Whatever you do, just tell her it’s going to be fine, and you’ll fix the car. I’ll call you back when I get her home.”
“Yeah, yeah ok. No problem. I’ll put her back on.”
“Mom, listen to me…I’m calling you an Uber and I’m going to stay with you on the phone until I know you are inside your apartment, ok?”
“OK…OK.” She said.
I kept her on the phone while I ordered an Uber to Sam’s garage to pick her up. As I guided my mother through the steps, I told the Uber driver what was happening. My mother was not well and to get her safely home and to please watch while she goes inside the apartment building. He was agreeable and I stayed on the phone with my mother.
“Mom…OK. Go inside the apartment and I want you to stay by the phone until I call you back—I’ll call you right back, ok?”
I knew something was really wrong. I called my Aunt Iris and Uncle Ralph, my mother’s brother, right away. I told them to get to her as soon as possible. There was no way I could get up there in time and she needed help immediately. She needed to go to a hospital. No one knew about this accident. Something was wrong. Something was wrong. Something was wrong.
Later that night, I was in tech rehearsal at the theater. It had been hours since my Aunt and Uncle reached my mother’s apartment and decided to take her straight to the hospital. I had managed to put it out of my mind until I heard more news. I didn’t tell anyone. I got dressed, put on my makeup, and went through rehearsal like nothing was happening. Then on a break my cell phone rang.
“Is this Leslie Kritzer?”
“Yes.” I answered.
“Hi Leslie. I’m a surgeon at Englewood Hospital and I’ve been evaluating your Mom. She suffered pretty severe brain bleeding and she’s going to need to go into surgery immediately.”
My stomach dropped.
“Ok. Um. I’m in Washington, D.C. so…what should I do? Should I come there now?
The surgeon took a breath. “Well…if it were my mom…considering the circumstances…yes, I would come now.”
“Ok. I’m on my way.”
I hung up the phone and started undoing my costume and wig. I turned to the hair supervisor, Pat Marcus, and said, “I need to get out of this now. My mom’s going into brain surgery. I need to get home.”
Everyone sprinted into action. Carol Oune, our company manager, got me a train ticket home immediately. Alex Brightman ordered me a car to the station. I had about 20’ish minutes to catch the next train. I was calm. I didn’t cry.
I got to the hospital and learned that my mother had gotten into the car accident on Aug 30th. Two weeks prior. She had been bleeding in her brain that entire time and no one knew. I had seen her, probably a few days after her accident and she never told me. I never even saw her car. Her ability to keep secrets was incredible. I got a copy of the police report and it said she had not been wearing a seatbelt when she crashed into a median on Rt. 4 near her house. The police officer at the scene asked if she wanted to go to the hospital. She said no. He put her in a tow truck and sent her home. If only he knew she had dementia, maybe he would have forced her to go but the law states you can’t force anyone to seek treatment.
The doctor said that if I hadn’t called when I did, she probably would have died in that apartment from the bleeding. The lawyer was right. This is how we got my mom help. This is how I got her into The Actors Fund Home not too long after. The other shoe had finally dropped.
2013/2021—The Memory Show/Real Life
We’ve spent our entire lives
Fighting to see who speaks last,
Each having to have the last word,
Each having to get it somehow.
It’s time for me to forget
And live with her here in the now.
Or at least I’ll try.
My mother and I—
My mother and me.
Apple and tree…
May 14, 2021—South Orange, NJ
First off, you are a nightmare. Truly terrible. I will not be recommending you to friends or writing a good yelp review anytime soon. TERRIBLE customer service, rude and abusive. However…between us, you have taught me how to love my mother in a way that I never thought was possible. You have brought my sister and me closer together. I’m….a better person because of you. Thank you for being the worst thing that’s ever happened.
P.S. I still hate you mostly all the time. Thanks.
Leslie with her Mom, Lucy, finally able to hug her for the first time after not being able to see her for several months due to Covid.
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