By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Feb 20, 2016 at 10:57 AM

The mind can be a dangerous place, especially when it’s flooded with memories too vital to shake away.

It can be almost any kind of memory, sad or happy, whimsical or serious, momentous or miniscule. But the grasp of a memory is for a life, and that lifetime rides along the road built by those memories.

That’s the journey in "Lamp for My Family," the play by Milwaukee playwright Michael Neville that opened Friday night at In Tandem Theatre Company.

The one-man show, with a bravura performance by Mark Corkins, focuses on Jack Duddy who has returned home to care for his aging mother. She has died, and he is left alone in the house, telling the story of each of the 20 relatives – all now dead – who lived in the house at one time or another.

Each relative is represented by a different lamp – their own personal reading lamp – and when Jack gets to the end of their story, when they die, he turns the lamp off.

Neville’s play is about his large Irish-American family that lived in Milwaukee, but the story is just as resounding if you are Jewish or Polish or African or Mexican. We all have our memories, and they all help shape who we are.

Corkins’ Duddy has vivid imprints of everything from his three-legged dog, Queenie, to his Scottish uncle who told him he was going to have a threesome with French siren Brigitte Bardot and John Wayne’s wife.

Under the patient direction of Chris Flieller, the play proceeds at a gentle pace. It almost seems to be a standup comedy routine by a comic who uses his family as a subject. Most of the memories are funny and warm and full of detail, as is this description of Jack’s mother.

"My mother, Teri, was the prettiest and the smartest of the seven O'Connor girls. Mom got along with everyone. There's a picture of her and Bob Hope and her army nurse's unit in London during the Blitz. Bob Hope is eyeballing her and has his mouth open. Mom said he was just being silly but I coaxed it out of her that he was making this sound: (JACK does the sound of Bob Hope's purring like a bit cat.) My dad was never allowed to see that picture.

My mother married my father because she was in the family way. With me. If I was named for the place of my conception, my name would be Nash Rambler Duddy. Mom lived large. She ate dessert after breakfast, lunch and supper. She became the head nurse at International Harvester. It was heavy industry where men lost digits and limbs like other people lose their number two pencils. In addition to raising a family and holding a job, Mom would go around the neighborhood giving the diabetics their insulin shots and chatting up the old folks.

Mom played poker with the Women of the Moose where the table stakes were presents with a value of two dollars or less. She was always coming home with little jars of Smucker's jam and boxes of candy from Walgreen's."

Neville’s play drives home the point that memories are part of the DNA of each of us. At the end of the play, it’s obvious that there is a haunting quality to Jack’s memories. But it is perhaps best if he come face to face with the lyric of a Josh Groban song called "Remember Me."

"Remember, I will still be here
As long as you hold me, in your memory."

After all, that is probably what it is all about. As long as we remember the loss seems, at best, just a temporary thing.

"Lamps for My Family" runs through March 13, and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.

Production Credits: Director, Chris Flieller; Production Manager, Colin Gawronski; Set Design, Chris Flieller; Sound Design, Jonathon Leubner; Costume Design, Kathy Smith; Light Design; Joey Welden.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.