ReviewThe important things, the things no one can take away, are held in one''s heart and mind--but only if we choose to remember. But what if we choose to forget? What is left of us then? What if a loss is so terrible--a mother''s loss of a daughter, a daughter''s loss of a mother--that to remember brings one too close to the abyss?

If loss is inevitable, then perhaps so too is recovery and redemption. "It is possible to lose everything. It can be done," claims Zophia--daughter, mother and grandmother in Ellen McLaughlin''s drama Tongue of a Bird, currently in production at Monterey Peninsula College''s SRO Theatre under the able direction of Ramie Wikdahl.

Ostensibly a play about lost mothers and lost daughters, perhaps it is best described as a story about searching mothers and searching daughters. On many levels Tongue of a Bird is a retelling of that original story of mother and daughter, loss and recovery: Demeter and Persephone. As in the original myth, mother Dessa searches for her daughter Charlotte, who has been kidnapped by a dark stranger. (In this case, the chariot to the underworld is a black pickup headed up the mountain.) And, like Demeter, Dessa will stop at nothing to find her child.

The character at the center of the story is Maxine, a pilot hired by Dessa to scour the mountainsides in search of the missing child, herself a lost daughter in search of her own mother. She seeks the memory, the presence, the connection of a mother she "could forget because she didn''t forget about me."

Memory and forgetting, loss and recovery are the threads that form the warp and weft of this compelling drama. The set design by William Strom and lighting design by Jesska Newsom simultaneously evoke broken bridges, wings, sacred space and dusty, fractured memories. It is a surreal, haunting environment. Lovely.

The acting is uniformly fine. Rosamond Zanides is especially good as grandmother Zophia. Her performance is funny and touching without any messy sentimentality. Laura Akard also is good as Maxine, capturing the physicality of an experienced pilot and woman with a mission. However, at times it seems she skims the surface of her character rather than immersing herself into Maxine''s emotional reality.

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As Dessa, Neli Moody subtly captures the barely suppressed hysteria, dark humor and desperation of a mother facing the ultimate loss. Alix and Kris Angelis, who shared the role of Charlotte, also are good. However, I am confused over Sarah Matterson''s portrayal of Maxine''s dead mother, Evie. Matterson recites the lines as though she were quoting poetry rather than speaking of her own experience. It isn''t clear whether this is due to a conscious choice or discomfort with the material. Quibbling aside, this is any affecting show and one not to be missed.

Tongue of a Bird plays Thursday (7pm), Friday-Saturday (8pm) and Sunday (2pm) through April 29 at Monterey Peninsula College''s SRO/Studio Theater, 980 Fremont in Monterey. Tickets cost $10. For reservations or more info, call 646-4213.

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