Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Tin Woman
Ross Valley Players
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Jesus Christ Superstar, Marjorie Prime, What the Constitution Means to Me and Angels in America

Jesse Lumb, Isabelle Grimm, and Joanna Cretella
Photo by Robin Jackson
Toss together a strong cast, a sweetly humorous and affecting play, and intelligent, capable direction, and you have a hit show at Ross Valley Players. The Tin Woman, by American playwright Sean Grennan, has serious themes at its core, including the sudden death of an adult child and a subsequent heart transplant. But it's also seasoned with appropriate and realistic humor, just the right spice to alleviate the heaviness. This production gives it a superb rendition, well worth your time.

Initial scenes are hazy and shrouded in mystery, as we witness two different awakenings—that of a young man who seems confused at first, and that of a young woman in hospital. It turns out that Joy (Joanna Cretella) has just had a heart transplant, and is tended to by an overly perky nurse (Sumi Narendran Cardinale). Joy wonders out loud who that young man was that she saw in her room—or was it a dream?

Rapid flashbacks are juxtaposed with the present, acquainting us with a grieving family. Jack (Jesse Lumb) has died in an accident, and his mother Alice (Ellen Brooks), father Hank (Keith Jefferds), and sister Sammy (Isabelle Grimm) mourn their loss with varying degrees of expression. Hank, in particular, hides his emotion behind gruffness and irritation, while Alice wants to talk through her grief. One consolation is knowing that Jack's heart went to save someone else's life.

Joy, however, suffers from survivor guilt and low self-esteem, wondering why she should have been spared. What good is her life, after all, if she's not destined for great accomplishments? Home from the hospital, she sinks into depression and despair, until encouraged by her best friend Darla (also Cardinale) to seek contact with the heart donor's family. An exchange of letters with Alice ensues, and sets Joy and the family on an unusual journey as they lurch toward connection and healing.

While the play contains loose ends and blurred focus in a few spots, its overall exploration of grief and survivor guilt feels original and authentic, and the gentle humor throughout eases the witnessing of strong emotions. Grennan, himself an actor, has a good ear for dialogue, and each of his characters has a solid, individual voice.

An all-around excellent cast gives the play a boost with first-rate performances. Cretella smartly summons the brittle, dry humor of Joy, but also delivers a credible transformation in the final, touching scenes, fulfilling the metaphor of the title. Lumb has a difficult, almost wordless role, but brings Jack to life in small gestures, lingering looks, and total engagement. Brooks as Alice delights and surprises, shining in the role of a would-be mediator struggling with her own loss.

The character of Sammy initially seems too broad, too much a caricature, but Grimm brings out her sincerity and vulnerability, and provides welcome comic relief. Tough, gruff Hank is hard to like, but Jefferds manages to make him sympathetic, even when the script hands him cliché. Cardinale provides much of the amusement and a lot of pizazz in her two characters, especially as the tough-loving, persistent friend Darla.

Director Michael Barr guides his cast with a firm hand and a clear understanding of the text, rising above script flaws to deliver the themes and the humor. He keeps the action moving on the attractive multiple-location set designed by Ron Krempetz. His positioning of Jack in every scene is especially effective. Lighting design by Ellen Brooks further aids in isolating locations and signaling life or afterlife. Michael Berg's costume design is spot on, and sound design by Clint Bajakian perfectly matches the action and the mood. Prop designer Dhyanis deserves mention for all that food.

It's a thoughtful, somewhat sober study of living and loss, laced with laughs and a good dose of hope. Don't hesitate to spend an evening with The Tin Woman.

The Tin Woman, through June 10, 2018, at Ross Valley Players, The Barn Theater at Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Tickets $12.00-$27.00 can be purchased online at www.rossvalleyplayers.comor by phone at 415-456-9555.