Once again I am impressed with isaand amazed at the talent that lurks about in Owensboro. These seemingly regular people going about their ordinary lives, and then, one night, they light up the stage. Maybe it is the stage in the Old Trinity Church. Maybe it is the stage of the Empress Theatre. Maybe the stage at OHS, home of the Rose Curtain Players.
But last week, it was the Trinity Center, on a Saturday night, for a production of Lisa Kron’s play, “well.” There was a great write up about it I am told. I hesitate to say I missed that article in the Messenger-Inquirer when it ran, but my friends didn’t, and they asked if wanted to go with them, season ticket holders as they are.
With the promise of a downtown dinner beforehand, I was in. They tried to explain to me the premise, the staging, but really, they weren’t very good at it. Something about only two characters — which is wrong. They were right in saying the play centers on a grown daughter and her ailing mother. The mother, by the way, has been unwell for years.
The set design is minimal, but before the play started I leaned against the apron and took photos of the recliner and the paraphernalia on the small table to its right. I have been in homes where illness has come, and I was drawn to the tabletop, counted the objects, marveled at the perfection of them. Tissues, a notepad and pen, the remote, a bottle of pills, a large drinking glass and straw. There was ice in the glass. Ice. Hard candies scattered about. A large bottle of generic antacids, hand sanitizer, a coffee cup full of pens.
The requisite zig-zag afghan across the back of the recliner. A tote bag hanging off a corner of the table. That’s just about it for props. The stage is divided in two, sort of, The recliner, with the mother firmly planted in it, anchors one part of the stage and provides the audience with a visual and emotional warmth, while the minimalist other half becomes whatever the playwright needs it to b, allergy clinic, meeting room, I can’t remember what all.
What I will not forget for a good while, though, are the performances of the central characters. Lisa, portrayed by Nicol Maurer to energetic, comedic and heartbreaking effect. The mother, Ann, played by Debbie Reynolds, in a subtle, nuanced performance that offers a space of calm in this mother-daughter reckoning.
It is a classic genre, the mother-daughter thing, but the playwright, Lisa Kron, lets us know right off the bat it isn’t about her or her mother. Oh, no. Never that. And of course, it is. What marks this play as different from some others is the unconventional way the story is told. It is a comedy, but also a play within a play, with a memoir feel to it, but lots of breaking the fourth wall, so I don’t know. All I know is, it works and I am so glad TWO has offered it for us.
The action is quick-paced and funny, laugh out loud funny, and the “swingers” not quite Greek chorus, not quite fully fleshed out characters, are all superb and perfectly cast. I have met every one of them in real life. You know what I mean.
Here is the part where I say, I have seen plays in Chicago, London, New York. One summer I walked in the evening half-light to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre where Fiona Shaw was starring in “Medea.”
The plays in those places were wonderful. Stunning, some of them, like “Medea.”
But so was the performance last Saturday. So well done. So easy to suspend disbelief as if, we, too, were struggling to make sense of our earliest influences—our mothers—and our necessary separations from them. We want to let go, but then we don’t, exactly, either.
Wes Bartlett and Mary-Katherine Maddox direct, and they must be pretty adept at it because we don’t see their guiding hand in any obvious way and that’s hard to pull off.
Theatre Workshop of Owensboro will have more performances this coming weekend. I was so impressed by the experience I want as many of you who can, to have it, too. Contact TWO for ticket price and times. You’ll almost think you are at the Abbey.