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St. Louis by Richard Green

Another Home Invasion
Echo Theatre

Another Home Invasion
Donna Weinsting
The business of life goes into its inevitable "liquidation" phase in the American premiere of Joan MacLeod's intimate, one-woman show featuring Donna Weinsting. As Jean, she's mostly seated in a comfy chair on a nearly bare stage for seventy minutes, with the usual chat about her grown children and her granddaughter—and about the grueling process of taking care of her near-invalid husband. And, though it's all done in a very charming and disarming way, we gradually become aware that Jean is giving up more and more, and getting back less and less, from a world that's put her on a sort of disassembly line to the grave.

Of course, her situation is not the same as every other woman's: she doesn't have particularly close ties to her children, nor any obvious faith to sustain her in the gathering shadows of old age. Nearly all that's left is a grim determination, tempered by wry wit, in the face of an unpredictable world.

Five or six weeks ago, the usually ubiquitous actress lamented that she'd struck-out at every audition she endured this summer. But soon after that collective, season-ending snub, director Eric Little scooped her up, and now she bravely erases nearly every trace of her familiar comic style for this role. As a result, Ms. Weinsting is excellent drawing us closer and closer with a soft-spoken charm and a resigned sense of confusion and dismay over the state of the world today. (The fact that she remains seated for almost the entire show also heightens the hypnotic nature of the storytelling.)

Invasion may also resonate more strongly if you have parents that have gone through this final downsizing too, on the road to their last years in a nursing home (in Vancouver, in this case). But, as with many of our older parents, the tenacity that saw them through wars and economic calamity and every kind of loss may now be their worst enemy, as they're trying to surrender themselves to a care system ostensibly aimed at preventing needless pain and suffering.

But there is comedy, from this veteran of stage and stand-up. After a social worker disappoints her in a surprise visit, frustrating Jean's plans for a sought-after nursing home for her and her husband together, she pauses, blinks and announces, "and then she ate one of my cookies!" It's said with such a flabbergasted, understated astonishment that the opening night audience roared, perhaps delighted to hear a distant echo of Ms. Weinsting's own sense of humor, far behind the facade. And that "cookie line" is already popping up on Facebook, among local theater people.

There's also heightened suspense when a disoriented young man first appears on her doorstep, and unaccountably grabs her by the wrist before disappearing up the street. And the hopeless task of managing her declining husband seems to bode ill, too, and not in the very distant future. Both fellows seem inexplicably crazed to her, though she guesses the younger man may have been on "that drug that sounds like Dentine." And both will figure in the play's climax. Till then, it's the classic story of someone who's lived beyond her own life-skills, but just doesn't have it in her to just give up.

Through October 24, 2010, in Crestwood Plaza (at Watson and Sappington), east of Sears. For information, call (314) 225-4329, or visit them on-line at www.echotheatrecompany.org.

Cast
Jean: Donna Weinsting

Crew
Director: Eric Little
Lighting Designer: Maureen Hanratty
Set Designer: Eric Little
Production Manager: Maria Straub
Stage Manager: Teresa Dennis
Box Office Manager: Terry Meddows


Photo: Jay Morthland


-- Richard T. Green

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