Arts & Entertainment

In ‘Absence,’ a painful portrayal of dementia

Joanna Merlin (foreground) and Anne Gottlieb in playwright Peter M. Floyd’s “Absence.”
Joanna Merlin (foreground) and Anne Gottlieb in playwright Peter M. Floyd’s “Absence.” Credit: Kalman Zabarsky

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What is it about Alzheimer’s that beckons like catnip to aspiring playwrights? It’s easy enough to understand the appeal for the writer — in the case of “Absence,” Peter M. Floyd, who developed this full-length work (his first) while still a grad student in Boston University’s playwriting program. Take on a faltering mind and you get to toy with memory — the very meat of drama — and the deterioration or absence thereof. But for the audience, a good portion of whom may themselves be staring down the prospect of senility, it’s not exactly a picnic.

Seventy-six-year-old Helen (Joanna Merlin), the central character in “Absence,” starts out just a few synapses over the line: She’s forgetting things, repeating herself. In a fairly typical threshold to full crisis mode, she wanders off, gets lost, and panics.

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