Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The Waverly Gallery
The back and forth and group repartee occurs mostly in a Greenwich Village apartment and a bit on Manhattan's Upper West Side from 1989 to 1991. Lonergan (who has said he was influenced by his own family dynamics as a young man) focuses on an amiable urban grandmotherly type of woman, Gladys. She, still a constant talker, was a lawyer who was politically aware. During recent decades, she has run a gallery within a hotel and she loves to display the work of artists who have not been previously celebrated. Unfortunately, and this is the crux of Lonergan's scripting, Gladys is rapidly losing her memory; she also has a major hearing deficiency. Living in an apartment behind hers is Daniel Reed (David Gow), Gladys's grandson. Danny also provides narration, from time to time, which helps facilitate the story.
Daniel loves and cares for his grandmother. Fairly often, his mother Ellen (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) and step-father Howard (Michael F. Toomey) come downtown to tend to Gladys. Some of the most comic moments of the production occur when Howard, realizing that Gladys is quite hard of hearing, yells at her so she will have a chance to understand his words. Ellen, who is attempting to take charge of some practical aspects of her mother's life, is both saddened and dismayed at the inevitable. Ellen (Aspenlieder) and her son Daniel (Gow) are equally distressed that, in reality, nothing can be done to arrest Gladys's downward spiral. She is slipping fast and no one wants to fully admit it. Ultimately, all will cope.
The suffering from dementia, senility, or Alzheimer's is impossibly difficult to address and/or witness. During recent years, books and films have provided narratives, theories and views. Most results are personal and tragic. In that regard, The Waverly Gallery neither breaks new ground nor sheds new light upon the predicament for those close to the person afflicted.
Lonergan's Gladys Green is a happy, effusive person who does not realize what goes on, who she is becoming. She is oblivious of the aspects of her journey, which are potentially despairing for those nearby. A New Yorker, she will often request to go to New York. Confused as she is, Gladys still is able to say, "I'm all mixed up."
Annette Miller's Gladys often talks (gestures) with her hands. Given the character, this (whether conscious choice or not) is wonderfully suitable and effective. While Gladys is not physically pliable, her arms and hands keep moving. Miller smiles often and this fits the disposition of a woman with a positive attitude. Thus, it is not surprising that she will display paintings of a man named Don Bowman (David Bertoldi). He is from Massachusetts and needs a home for his artwork. While Don is not particularly likable, Gladys is just that and she is proud that his work hangs on the gallery walls.
The irony of situations like the one depicted in this play is that the person affected is not cognizant of the implications associated with her circumstances. Lonergan's supportive people, especially Danny and his mother Ellen, are desperately trying to sidestep the indicators: Gladys will no longer maintain a degree of self-sufficiency. The options are limited and prospects bleak.
Packer, interpreting and directing, allows this production to breathe. There are not many plusses associated with the plight of a vibrant human being who undergoes swift mental decline. With freedom to experience and sculpt her character, Annette Miller brings us near her through heartfelt, disciplined performance.
The Waverly Gallery, through July 14, 2019, at Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St, Lenox, MA. For tickets, call 413-637-3353 or visit shakespeare.org.