Park Square Theater; Seen Feb. 2nd. This show has completed its run.
Editor’s note: Access Press is pleased to welcome author and playwright Raymond Luczak as our new theater reviewer. Mr. Luczak www.raymondluczak.com will be reviewing an ASL-interpreted play each month under the heading “From the front row.” Reviews will be posted first to access press.org, and printed the following month. Coming next: Peer Gynt (reviewed Feb 17th)
On the surface, Lisa M. Kron’s Well sounds fairly straightforward and humorous: A playwright incidentally named Lisa Kron tries to write a play about how she recovered from her allergies while her allergy-laden mother constantly interrupts from her La-Z-Boy with corrections. But the execution—and the journey that the audience takes—is much more complex and ultimately satisfying. Impeccably directed by Michael Bigelow Dixon, the cast is able to anchor a script that could’ve been confusing for those with little exposure to experimental and nontraditional theater. Throughout the show the focus explores the mother-daughter—and indirectly, playwright-muse—relationship between Lisa and her mother Ann. There are plenty of chuckles and some outright laughs sprinkled throughout. The set, designed by Kate Sutton-Johnson, is distinctive, conveying Ann’s world with its comfortable evocations of home and contrasting it with the abstract gray boxes and wide stripes on the floor for Lisa’s state of mind.
In a part that a younger Diane Keaton might have made predictable with her tics and mannerisms, Christina Baldwin imbues her character Lisa instead with a more realistic rendition of someone who thinks she knows what she wants, and yet her emotional intents are clear as day. She is totally likeable, but I think we eventually share her mother’s exasperation with Lisa’s need to “explain.” The whole show plays havoc with the very concept of “show and tell,” which is ironic, given how the other cast members—four performers who portray a wide variety of characters from Lisa’s childhood—do often show what Lisa tells, or tries to explain. Sometimes Lisa participates in their re-enactments; sometimes not.
I found two particular elements of great interest to the disability community.
While examining how her parents felt it important to push for racial integration with African-American neighbors and classmates, it is fascinating to see the characters grapple with what it means to be part of the community. Many people within the disability community do not feel accepted by those who are able-bodied or those who consider themselves “normal” (whatever that means), so in this context, it’s always illuminating to observe and learn from other minorities seeking acceptance, and yes, assimilation. For instance, when Lisa as a younger child tries to emulate her African-American friends and their mannerisms, it’s quite funny. How many of us in the disability community have tried to imitate others in hopes of being accepted, even though it’s already painfully clear that being disabled is so not cool?
Lisa also explores how other people she’d met while growing up interact with their doctors and how they view themselves through the restrictive lens of what is wrong with them, as opposed to what is good with them (sound familiar, anyone?). At the “allergy hospital,” Lisa meets Joy, a very depressed person obsessed with the state of her own physical health, who is played with great aplomb by Heidi Bakke. It is through their interactions that she begins to see how some people need to feel unwell, and how she had to stop seeing the world through her mother’s eyes. As Ann Kron, Barbara June Patterson gives her character a feisty demeanor. That a performer “past a certain age” is even up there points out the unfortunate dearth of complex and engaging parts for older performers who are so rarely seen aside from second-tier parts (grandmother and the like) in contemporary theater.
The ASL interpreters Susan Masters and Stephen Medlicott prove themselves capable of making a “messy” play clear to us Deaf audience members, especially with its plethora of characters. Their translation was very good. The playbill warned that strobe lighting would be used in the production, but that is only to convey a photographic flashbulb going off. The sign for the wheelchair-accessible restrooms in the lobby was clearly easy to see; these restrooms seemed quite a ways from the lobby itself, however.
That this unconventional play has done so well on Broadway is a testimony to its universal humanity and its empathetic humor. If you’ve ever been exasperated by your own mother—and who hasn’t?—this play is for you.
Park Square Theater is located at: 20 W. 7th Place, St. Paul