Also see John's review of The Christmas Schooner
The premise of two adult, essentially parentless siblingsan older, more responsible sister and her younger, drifting-through-life brotheris reminiscent of Kenneth Lonergan's film You Can Count on Me, with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo as the siblings, though the plots differ considerably. Like Lonergan, O'Connor has a gift for creating believable characters that are flawedvulnerable, frequently wrong, but winning the audience's empathy. She also has Lonergan's keen ear for the way people talk and an ability to write dialogue that is both funny and truthful.
Assisted Living might be just fifteen minutes away from the quality of Lonergan's film. At 90 minutes of stage time (with no intermission), the script feels a little choppy and the characters underdeveloped. Without warning, Jimmy suddenly becomes suspicious of Levi's care giving. Jimmy and Anne have some shouting matches that feel unearned, and we really could stand to learn more about Levi. As it is, though charmingly played by Jordan Stacy, Levi is close to becoming more of a plot device than as full a character as Anne and Jimmy. Another 10-15 minutes of dialogue might be enough to flesh this story out into more satisfying form. Yes, the 90-minute intermissionless play is proving to be a popular format for theater, but there's a reason 105 minutes has been a standard length for feature film storytelling for so long, and this piece could use the extra time. In its current form, Assisted Living feels just a little diagrammatic in making its point that some people (Jimmy) need to step up and take more responsibility while others (Anne) need to lighten up. A bit more connective tissue in the script would help the play earn that conclusion. And where does Levi fit in this diagram? Is he also too responsible for his age? Will he be just like Anne when he gets to be 40?
Assisted Living is getting a fine first production from director Joe Jahraus and Profiles. It all feels honest and real, thanks in large part to David Ferguson's setprimarily the kitchen of the mom's home, but also fitting a car and a hospital waiting room into the storefront space of Profiles' Second Stage Theater. Stacy Stolz shows the many layers of Annelonely, overburdened, and frustrated, but with enough strength and residual hopefulness to try to break out of her rut. Layne Manzer as Jimmy is essentially a decent guy, with his immaturity possibly coming more out of ignorance than deep-seated selfishness; and Jordan Stacey's Levi is a goofy, awkward young adult who probably doesn't quite fit in with either his peers or with adults any older than he is. Shannon Hollander is also sympathetic in the smaller role of a young woman who enters the picture late in the play. We sense these four actors have done some good homework on the characters' back storieswe just need O'Connor to provide some more dialogue and scenes to let us in on the secrets.
Assisted Living will play through December 18, 2011, at Profiles' alternate venue, The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield, Chicago. Ticket information available at www.profilestheatre.org or by phone at 773-549-1815.