Park Square Theatre Well
Also see Ed's reviews of Peer Gynt and Poetry of Pizza
Lisa Kron's autobiographical play gets a strong reading at Park Square, fueled by a pair of tremendous performances in the two leads - Christina Baldwin as the playwright Lisa and Barbara June Patterson as her mother, Ann. The show itself is messy and sometimes it seems that the actual playwright Kron is as confused about what she is trying to say as the on-stage playwright Kron.
Well takes place at a show, where Lisa plans to explore her own family's sense of illness and wellness against the backdrop of 1) her own experiences in a Chicago allergy clinic and 2) her mother's efforts to foster their integrated neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Lisa has everything ready - a cast of actors, a symbolic set and a series of note cards with the different elements of the show carefully detailed - but the show goes off the rails almost from the start. As part of the conceit, she has also brought her mother - and her mother's overstuffed living room - into the play, and Ann isn't content to let her daughter tell the tale alone.
As her mother comments on the action and bonds with the rest of the cast, other touches of reality strike Lisa's carefully constructed show, such as a tormentor from her youth who makes a series of unexpected appearances. As the show unfolds, her plans unravel, but a new, deeper truth is revealed beneath it.
Kron deals with plenty of issues throughout, but focuses a lot of attention on how we treat "others" in society - this can be due to race, health or just being different. There's a messy heart at the center of the play, where the final step - the relationship between the parent and child - is revealed. Kron's actual script goes off the rails here, and her desire for an honest ending trips up the show and exchanges ambiguity for confusion.
Baldwin and Patterson make a terrific stage "couple" and make you believe that they could be mother and daughter. The other four performers do solid work throughout and even get to stage a revolt near the play's end, stalking off stage amid the show's growing confusion. (I've seen a number of shows over the years where I wish the actors had done this for real, but that's beside the point.)
Director Michael Bigelow Dixon crafts a solid production here and never lets the madness of the script overwhelm the honest truths at the play's center. Well certainly is "utterly original," and the cast and crew at the Park Square Theatre give their all to the show to make sure that it is also utterly unforgettable.
Well runs through February 10 at the Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building, 20 West Seventh Place, St. Paul. For tickets and information, call 651-291-7005 or visit www.parksquaretheatre.org.