Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Well
Ensemble Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Waiting for Godot


Laura Starnik and Lara Mielcarek
Photo by Gabe Schaffer
Early into the self described "theatrical exploration" that makes up the play Well, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, the playwright's mother, Ann Kron (Laura Starnik), perpetually inhabits a large La-Z-Boy chair when suddenly she notices the audience. Breaking the fourth wall, she asks her daughter if she has offered anyone a soda as she breezily calls out from the hidden kitchen the items she has in stock. This is one of the many performance art devices that author Lisa Kron uses to tell the story of her growing up Jewish in Lansing, Michigan.

Lisa is now best known as the writer and lyricist of the musical Fun Home for which she won Tonys for Best Original Score and Best Book for a Musical. Her work gives an intimate portrait of people's lives by breaking through the convention of traditional theater. The character Lisa Kron (Lara Mielcarek) states early on in Well that the play is about "issues of illness and wellness. It asks the question: Why are some people sick and other people are well? Why are some people sick for years and years and other people are sick for a while but then they get better?"

Along with breaking of the fourth wall (which very nearly turns into an audience participation segment), there are various actors who play multiple roles and near the end go completely out of character to instigate a revolt that results in everyone leaving except for the mother and daughter. Ann also spends much of the play correcting Lisa's memory of various family stories, suggesting that this or that tale might better serve to illustrate a point.

Lisa Kron spent her formative years as the only white Jewish girl in one of the first integrated neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan. Her mother Ann had converted from Christianity to Judaism in order to marry Ann's father, and the family took residence in the neighborhood of her choice. When the city began withdrawing services to the predominately black community, Ann started a neighborhood organization to give the area an identity. Through the organization's united effort of parades, Christmas decorations, and various "hometown" events, they were able to keep the area from degrading into an urban slum.

Living with her hypochondriac mother, Lisa began to develop symptoms that her mother attributed to allergies that continued to worsen until, in her second year of college, she experienced a complete meltdown, requiring treatment at a holistic allergy hospital.

Lara Mielcarek as Lisa Kron and Laura Starnik as Ann Kron somehow manage to keep this collection of recollections, monologues, personal experiences, and family stories flowing seamlessly in spite of frequent shifts in time and location. The rest of the cast pull off complex multiple roles in which each is a distinct and separate personality, including April Needham as Joy, Dottie, and Herself; May Jones as Lori Jones, Kay, Mrs. Price, Cynthia, and Herself; Brian Kenneth Armour as Jim Richardson, Nurse Two, Little Oscar, Big Oscar, and Himself and Craig Joseph as Head Nurse, Howard Norris, and Himself.

Can humans really escape their childhood influences through flight, therapy and adult relationships when a single trip home negates all and reduces them to their painful pre-teens? This and many other questions form the body of Lisa Kron's theatrical exploration Well. While teetering on the edge of conventional theater it manages to explore issues we all deal with in our present and past lives.

The Ensemble Theatre production of Well will be on stage through October 22, 2017, at the Coventry Building located at 2843 Washington Boulevard in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ensembletheatreCLE.org or by calling (216) 321-2930.


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