A Half-Hit and a Miss
Two more openers at the OSF
by Suzi Steffen & Anna Grace
Sometimes, It’s Hard to Get Well
|Ann (Dee Maaske) breaks into her daughter’s play. Photo by Jenny Graham.|
“It’s not even a first draft!” huffed a 60-something man in a cowboy hat as we filed out of the 95-minute New Theatre production of Lisa Kron’s Well. “MAYBE there’s enough material for one or two one-acts! With lots of drafts!”
To my other side, a middle-aged woman said to her friend, “Wasn’t that wonderful? Wasn’t that moving? Tears were streaming down my cheeks.”
All righty, then. What is Well? Is the Tony-award-winning play a solo performance piece (with a few other actors) as Lisa (originally played by the playwright; at OSF, played by Terri McMahon) and her mother (Dee Maaske) discuss? Is it about her life, her mother’s life, sickness in the form of many allergies, integration in a formerly white neighborhood, Lisa’s selective memory, her mother’s ability to charm her friends and make her insane? Maybe. Certainly it concerns the bonds that tie Lisa to her mother and the shorthand she’s conceived in her N.Y. life for describing her childhood home in East Lansing, Mich. “I got well,” she says, explaining that she also suffered from allergies but was somehow able to move on.
Any now-coastal folk who have moved from the Midwest or urbanites who tried to leave the concerns of their parents and grandparents behind will recognize the shifting, and rather shifty, way Lisa describes her mother and her mother’s house.
Lisa’s frustration and anger with her mother’s inability to get better, her blithe statements about getting in touch with her body through yoga and her fear of her mother’s vulnerability make the piece uncomfortably real, as do moments when inhabitants of an allergy clinic (Gina Daniels and K.T. Vogt) talk about the differences between sickness and health.
Alarmingly, characters make the same analogy about health and sickness — people who are healthy imagine sickness as something laid on top of their health — that Lisa’s mother makes about her white self imagining what it’s like to be black. Uh, excuse me?
Much of the play interrogates the playwright’s memory, and some of that interrogation works wonders. But the final scene, in which Lisa reads a note that supposedly will reveal the true nature of her mother, doesn’t work at all. Both McMahon and the script fall flat, leaving the ending surprisingly dull after a fabulous, energetic beginning and an engaging middle portion.
Well deals with huge issues in too short a time, and it’s a mostly one-woman show without the woman who premiered it a few years ago. But it’s chewy, touching on challenging relationships — and how we decide when, and if, we’ve grown up. — SS
More Charm School, Please
|Elizabeth Bennet (Kate Hurster) rejects the proposal of Mr. Darcy (Elijah Alexander). Photo by David Cooper.|
The Jane Austen bandwagon has been full to overflowing these last few years with poorly wrought sequels, modern interpretations and even vampires. While Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan’s streamlined stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice saves us from the gross imaginings of some of those efforts, it lacks the charm and richness that make the book so satisfying.
The pace is dizzying, skimming through the story by hitting on mere snippets of its most important scenes. The quick succession of action and characters made it necessary for audience members to be familiar with the plot; it would have been difficult to understand the story if they didn’t.
But as someone intimately familiar with the book, I found the breakneck speed of this play lacking. The production feels less like a wonderful, charcter-driven romance and more like a conglomeration of the book’s greatest lines.
Despite this atmosphere of extreme haste, the romantic scenes are swoon-worthy, due largely to Elijah Alexander’s soulfully conflicted Mr. Darcy. Alexander’s presence seems able to slow time as action swirls around him and the audience watch him fall in love with Elizabeth (Kate Hurster). Of the other characters I can only say they didn’t have enough time, the worst case being Mark Murphey as Mr. Bennet, who was only allowed to walk on stage, deliver a famous line and exit thereafter.
The set, an empty ballroom occasionally enlivened by a few chairs or a piano bench, and the beautiful costumes were not enough to hold the production together. I did not find myself delighted by Austen’s wit and social satire, nor did I enter her world; in this production, I was merely reminded of it. — AG