Regional Reviews: Boston
Also see Josh's review of The Wolves
Chief among the rule-bending techniques Kron employs is the elimination of the fourth wall. She invites, or requires, engagement with the audience, not so much in any active, participatory way, but by speaking directly at us, sometimes conspiratorially, and reaching out to distribute little American flags when she reminisces about the Fourth of July. At one point, feeling the need to be hospitable, Ann tosses mini-bags of snacks to some of the audience. Mostly, there is simply a feeling of intimacy and belonging that Ryder and Foley convey, giving us the experience of sitting in the latter's living room with a pair of convivial hosts. Although Well is scripted, it comes off as a little bit improv or ad lib, and very conversational.
Kron's central thesis deals with the issues of illness and wellness, asking why some people are sick and others are well, why some sick people stay sick while others get well, and what is the difference between those types of people? She tells us that the play is not about her mother and herself, although Ann has been chronically ill her whole life, and Lisa was sick as a younger woman, but got better. Through a series of vignettes and calling upon her memories of people in her life, Lisa is both narrator and guide as she explores events that she hopes will give her clarity. Joining her on the journey are actors who play multiple characters: Daniel Boudreau (Howard Norris, Head Nurse), Jade Guerra (Lori, Kay, Mrs. Price, Cynthia), Diana Lobontiu (Joy, Dottie), and Joshua Wolf Coleman (Little Oscar, Big Oscar, Nurse #2). Lisa revisits the people and places of her childhood neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan, and the Allergy Unit of the hospital where she spent time.
The ensemble is composed of a cohesive quartet who hit all the comic notes, even as they underscore the laughs with the serious side of some of the issues. Despite her own ill health and low energy, Ann organized a neighborhood association to promote integration because she thought it best to live in an integrated neighborhood. The supporting cast represent members of the association, Lisa's playmates, and both staff and other patients from the hospital, and they all do a stellar job of differentiating their characters.
Five panels form a semi-circular upstage "wall" upon which are projected a series of colors and shapes to indicate the locale of each scene, and a hospital bed is wheeled on and off, as needed. The greatest scenic detail (set design, David Towlun) is provided for Ann's corner of the stage, with jam-packed shelves, shag carpeting, a stairway suggesting a second floor, a door that leads to the (unseen) kitchen, all surrounding a large reclining chair where Ann is sleeping when we enter the theater. Lighting designer Graham Edmondson uses warm tones for Ann's corner, bright whiteness for the hospital, and a special spotlight on Lisa when she wishes to share some secrets with the audience, out of her mother's earshot. Chelsea Kerl's costumes help to define the characters and are evocative of the late 1960s-early '70s when Lisa was growing up.
Well is an enjoyable, idiosyncratic piece of theater that is marked by clever writing and staging, but the Wellesley Repertory Theatre production is to be treasured especially for the performances of Ryder and Foley. As a duo, they capture the essence of the charged mother-daughter relationship, seesawing between love and exasperation. Individually, Foley just becomes Ann Kron with her warmth and down to earth wisdom in plain view. Ryder carries much of the show on her narrow shoulders, capturing the myriad aspects of Lisa's personality, while presenting as an extremely engaging (if neurotic) character. It is her first WRT show, but hopefully only the first of many. For a night of healing, go see Well.
Well, through February 10, 2019, at Wellesley Repertory Theatre, in the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre, Alumnae Hall, 106 Central Street, Wellesley MA. Box Office 781-283-2000 or www.wellesleyrep.org.
Written by Lisa Kron, Directed by Marta Rainer; Set Design, David Towlun; Costume Design, Chelsea Kerl; Sound Design, George Cooke; Lighting Design, Graham Edmondson; Stage Manager, Lindsay Garofalo; Assistant Stage Manager, Kim Burton; Props Master, Kim Towlun
Cast: Sebastian Ryder, Lisa Foley, Daniel Boudreau, Jade Guerra, Diana Lobontiu, Joshua Wolf Coleman