Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The playwright herself played the lead role in the New York production, and much of the complexity of this 90-minute work comes from the numerous layers of artifice: not just a play within a play, but several plays within a play. The idea is that "Lisa" the character (Ackerman) is trying to conduct what she calls "a theatrical exploration of individual experience" centering around her mother's chronic illnesses and her own diagnostic stay at an allergy clinic.
In the reality of the play, Lisa and her mother Ann (Robinette) are playing fictionalized versions of themselves, while the other performers each play a variety of roles. Unfortunately for Lisa, the other people on stage won't behave the way she wants them to. Ann has her own recollections of the experiences Lisa is sharing; the other actors (Scott Drummond, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Marc Damon Johnson, Susan Lynskey) keep slipping in and out of character, sometimes taking Ann's side against Lisa; and every so often someone who isn't supposed to be in the play makes a surprise entrance.
As portrayed by Robinette, Ann is the sort of endlessly patient yet exasperating mother who looks perfect to people who didn't grow up with her. Unflappable despite the pain and fatigue that have shaped her entire life, Ann is determined to build a better world, becoming a community activist in her neighborhood of Lansing, Michigan, using social gatherings rather than confrontation to promote her cause. Robinette gives Ann both a genuine sweetness and a maddening confidence in her own beliefs. She also gets the opportunity to poke holes in some theatrical conventions: as Lisa addresses the audience, Ann calls out, "It's a spotlight, not a soundproof booth!"
Ackerman is a good balance for Robinette: intense, bristling, on the surface quite different from her mother, but sharing the quality of sensitivity to everything around her.
Thomas Lynch's scenic design uses the unexpected medium of white paper to striking effect as a floor covering. The costumes by Nan Cibula-Jenkins range from Lisa's sleek black ensemble and Ann's comfortable cardigan to amusing evocations of 1960s style.