Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Lisa Kron's Well is Intriguing

Also see Richard's reviews of Hilda and Enchanted April

Lisa Kron and Jayne Houdyshell
American Conservatory Theatre is presenting the West Coast premiere of Lisa Kron's Well through March 13 at the Geary Theatre. Ms. Kron describes this as a "solo show with other people in it." It premiered at the Martinson Hall-Public Theatre in New York last year and received rave reviews for both Lisa Kron and Jayne Houdyshell who plays her mother, Ann. Ms. Houdyshell won an OBIE award for her performance. Ms. Kron has brought the entire New York cast to the Geary Theatre for this presentation.

Lisa Kron has presented solo shows before; however, this time she uses a collection of characters to examine the connections between an extended stay in a Chicago allergy clinic at age 19 and her upbringing in a mixed-race neighborhood in 1960s Lansing, Michigan. What begins as a straightforward autobiography of her early life is soon upstaged by the brilliant Jayne Houdyshell playing her mother and an irreverent coup d'etat from the actors portraying various other characters.

As you enter the theatre, you see Ann (Jayne Houdyshell) taking a nap on a La-Z-Boy in her scruffy apartment on the right side of the stage. Lisa Kron has written a better part for her mom than for herself and Houdyshell makes the most of this wonderful, multi-faceted person. Imaginative use is made of theatrical conventions as Kron loses control of the production to her mother who inserts her own hilarious commentary on the play.

Kron, dressed in black pants and shirt, enters the stage in a circle of light and addresses the audience. She tells us that this is "a theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in an individual and a community." Ann suddenly awakens from her nap to discover people out there past the fourth wall. Lisa tells us that her mother is "a fantastically energetic person trapped in an utterly exhausted body." At first, the mother does not wish to be on stage or to be made the center of attention, but she soon gets into the act as a kibitzer to what Lisa is trying to present.

Well has two center themes during its almost two hour presentation. One concerns Lisa's treatments of allergies in the well-known Chicago allergy clinic where she meets various characters suffering from allergic reactions to certain smells or foods, and the other concerns her mother as chairman of a committee to integrate a neighborhood in Lansing. Sometimes the onstage flashbacks don't match her memories, resulting in a humorous and unabashed deconstruction of theatre.

Ms. Kron said it best in an interview for the New York Public Theatre: "My goal is not to have the audience leave with this picture of my parents. My goal is that audience members have an experience in the theatre that allows them to think about the world a little bit differently and there's some kind of new lens through which they can look."

Jayne Houdyshell is the real deal as a wonderful Midwestern mother who stands up for her rights. She is not going to be told what to do by her daughter even though she loves and respects her. She isn't timid when she sees a scene being played out wrong. Houdyshell is marvelous in the role. There is a chorus of four actors who play doctors, patients, children and people in the neighborhood, including a great African-American character who was Lisa's nemesis during her grade school days. Saidah Arrika Ekulona really goes overboard in her characterization of the nine-year-old brat. Other members of the ensemble, A-men Rasheed, Joel Van Liew and Welker White, are very good in various parts.

Well runs at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco through March 13. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-749-2228 or going to

ACT's next production at the Geary will be The Voysey Inheritance by Harley Granville-Barker and adapted by David Mamet. It opens on March 18 and runs through April 17th. ACT is also presenting as part of their First Look Series at the Zeum Theatre, Lilies by Michel Marc Bouchard in association with Theatre Rhinoceros and Female Transport by Steve Gooch. Both start in repertory on March 8 and 10th and run through April 3rd at the Zeum, 4th and Howard, San Francisco. For those tickets call the same number.

Photo: Michal Daniel

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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