Some people get sick and some people get better once they get sick. And then there are some people that are always sick and never get better. Strand Theater Company presents critically acclaimed playwright Lisa Kron’s Well, a meta-theatrical experience in discovering the difference between the two. The playwright is the leading character who is attempting, for the very first time, to write a multi-character exploration rather than a single-person performance piece. This piece will focus around people as a whole and individually who are sick and well as well as communities with similar issues. The characters are recreations of people in her past, from the neighborhood or the allergy institute, and are played by normal actors. The break-down of the show, or perhaps the fun of it, is when Lisa’s mother gets involved, breaking out of the play-scene construct that Lisa has created, often forcing the characters to revert into actors to address her.
Lighting Designer Matthew Klein creates the perfect atmosphere for this sort of dual happening on stage. There is strong house lighting during scenes where the mother is simply talking or interrupting one of the scenes in the ‘play,’ and a much more subtle spotlight and darkness combination for when Lisa or the others are meant to be experiencing a scene. Klein makes these shifts between the two clearly and succinctly without any lingering between one or the other – and this really helps the audience keep up with the constant outbursts on both sides.
From the moment you enter the set you can tell that perhaps all is not well. Scenic Artist Ryan Haase creates a cluttered disorganized glimpse at the house in which the mother lives. It’s piled high with collections of things, seemingly useless, and there is stuff everywhere, untidy bordering on the personality of a hoarder. Haase highlights this pit of un-well with grotesquely patterned blue and yellow floral wallpaper, completing the sickly feeling all around.
The thing that makes this particular production work so impeccably is the clear dichotomy between characters and actors that Director Rain Pryor manages to coax from her performers. Several of the performers play multiple characters as well as themselves as actors – and Pryor ensures that each shift from character to character or from character to actor is clear and well-defined. There are no residual leftovers from one character to another – and there are clear defining markers that separates the actors as themselves from the characters they are portraying. This is an extremely difficult task to do but Pryor executes it flawlessly.
The one character who is only ever a character is Lisa Kron (Alexandra Linn.) This presents a separate challenge in and of itself, one that Linn takes on with pride. Linn manages to create this high-strung expressive playwright before the audience’s eyes with varying levels of moody and expressiveness that really invite the audience into her story. Her character’s ease at becoming annoyed with the mother is reflected through flashy facial reactions and stereotypical angry body language, like stomping across the set or throwing her arms tightly across her chest. And while Linn is only ever Lisa, she too has to make a careful divide between Lisa reenacting in the play and Lisa dealing with the actors she’s hired to help her produce this thing. Linn gives a stunning performance, clearly dividing between the two and makes her story one that you want to sympathize with.
Ann Kron (Joan Webber) as the mother is a vastly compelling character. Webber masters the ability of being this constantly out-of-breath character without ever sounding forced or looking contrived. She waddles around the stage in agony, convincing the audience and the other actors that her life is truly sickly. Her utter meltdown toward the end of the show is heart-stopping as she pours her soul out through tears, worried what people will think of her because she’s too sick to do anything. And Webber’s break into startled hysterics realizing she’s been left alone on the stage with a house full of people is priceless, almost like watching a stage hand who has no idea what to do in a play interact with the audience while some backstage technical difficulty is dealt with. Webber’s performance is sensational and her interactions with Linn drive this play to its humbling conclusion.
The actor to keep your eye on is Kyla Janise, playing five different characters including herself. Janise’s interpretation of these different characters is as different as day and night, each character having its own individual style, right down to the costume change. The most compelling character is her bully character, Lori Jones, who every time she’s on stage begins to mercilessly tease and beat on Linn’s character. Janise owns this character with a fierce passion, and then switches quickly to the quirky and slightly spastic patient at the institute, Kay. Her character cycles are the strongest and her shifts are the clearest, letting the audience know that she really is five separate people.
So whether you are sick or you are well, you have allergies or you don’t, perhaps you have issues with your mother and are afraid you might become her, then this show has something for you, so don’t miss it.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.