Cancer is never something that one would expect to find hope out of. However, hope out of the hardest times is precisely what is examined in Mark Jason Williams Recovery, which opens at the Capital Fringe Festival on July 11th. Focusing on the relationships that form between those that deal with leukemia, Williams’ piece shows how new beginnings and wonderful communities can form where they are least expected.
The play is an ensemble piece, with a central storyline focusing on two relapsing patients, quirky Michael and closed-off Kathleen, and their burgeoning friendship at a time when their illnesses are not their only struggle. Fringe veteran actors Grant Cloyd and Rachel Manteuffel, playing the roles of the unexpected romantics, both were drawn to the piece because of its treatment of the subject. “Anytime something about disease can transcend the Hallmark movie cliche, I’m interested,” said Manteuffel, who is participating in the Fringe for the 7th time. Cloyd in particular saw promise in play’s ability to see the people for who they are. “Recovery is not a PSA – it’s about people trying to find a way to not be defined by a sickness they have little control over and being a person, not just a patient,” he said.
Recovery‘s story also takes a look at the people who treat the disease and the ways by which their lives are directed and detoured by the experience. Marcus Salley plays Dr. Bestar, Michael and Kathleen’s specialist who is preparing to retire to a life free of patient responsibilities, but full of new doubts. “Bestar is unsure of what will happen to him once he retires because he has only ever been a doctor.” said Salley, a recent member of the National Players’ touring ensemble out of Olney Theatre Center. Equally as touched by the social effects of the disease is Bestar’s nurse, the hard-nosed Lucille, played by Dannielle Hutchinson. “She wants the best for her patients, but struggles with the balance of boundaries between personal and professional.”
Rounding out the ensemble of the production are Christine Alexander, Anna Jackson, DC Cathro, Kathleen Burke, and Bethany Michel. Each of them takes on the roles of the countless others who have lived and died from leukemia. Their stories help to not only flesh out the experiences of Michael and Kathleen, but serve to show the unseen bonds and shared emotions between all who deal with the disease, patient or not. “This play covers the whole range of emotions dealt with during the struggle with cancer, and we get to see it from so many different points of view: children, spouses, parents, etc,” said Jackson, who plays Brian, a child patient, and Amy, a devoted wife who struggles with her condition. Burke’s character of Tammy provides incite into the teenage experience of leukemia as a former beauty pageant queen. “Tammy’s no pushover and is fighting like hell, but this journey has made her realize some of the more important things worth living for, beyond the pageant stage.”
Michel and Alexander both share a direct connection to the piece, having lost loved ones to leukemia in recent memory. “I was initially drawn to Recovery because I lost my aunt on November 30, 2006 due to complications resulting from the treatment of her leukemia. She was my father’s youngest sister and, originally diagnosed in 2004, she fought fiercely for 2 1/2 years.” Michel looks forward to sharing the stories of those who fight the disease, even in defeat. “I am playing Robin, a married woman and mother of three. She is appearing to the audience pre-cancer, but she is telling her story of how she died. She was always the rock, the one people looked up to, and the ravage of the cancer reduced her to relying on other people for her day-to-day living.”
At the helm directing for the project is Michael R. Burgtorf. As Artistic Director of Artists’ Initiative, Burgtorf has produced new works in the last two Festivals, with Michael Silver’s social war drama The Storehouse in 2011 and Michael Perrie’s trippy dark comedy Sweet Painted Lady last year. He is excited, however, to return to the directing reins with Recovery. I was ecstatic that Mark gave me the opportunity to work on a piece with such vibrance,” he said. Salley expressed excitement to be working with Burgtorf, saying, “I had previously worked with Michael during the [Bethesda] Play in a Day festival this year and wanted another opportunity to work with him again.” Cathro also looked forward to working with Burgtorf, as well as castmate Grant Cloyd. “The fact that I was going to get to work with Grant again, after appearing with him in last year’s Fringe production of “Bareback Ink,” as well as Mike, who I’ve wanted to work with for a while, was just icing on the cake,” he said. “The mosaic that these characters’ stories create defines the human connection of the piece beyond what a simple linear story could, and I’m positive we have the right group of actors to build it,” Burgtorf commented.
Even after being a Fringe favorite at the New York International Fringe Festival and the Minnesota Fringe, the cast and design team know that the show may not be the easiest sell to a Fringe audience. “It takes a generous and open audience to come see a show with “downer” connotations when there’s so much about Fringe that’s bright and fun,” Manteuffel exclaimed. “I hope they will be as surprised as I was that the show isn’t really a downer at all.” Burgtorf, too, is sure that this will be the case thanks to the playwright’s approach. “There is great emotion to this piece without being heavy-handed about the subject. The leveity in Mark’s take makes the show both enjoyable and powerful to watch.” Sarah Scafidi, the show’s stage manager, added, “Mark’s writing feels so comfortable and easy, and the characters are so complex and real – you can forget that you are watching a play.”
One thing is for certain: the cast believes deeply in the cause of their performance, and knows that it will leave its audience changed for the better. “I think the audience will take away a sense of hope from Recovery,” said Burke. “They will see how we all have our wounds that need recovering from.”
Recovery, written by Mark Jason Williams and directed by Michael R. Burgtorf, will play at the Goethe Insititut – 812 7th Street NW, in Washington, DC. METRO: Gallery Place – Chinatown (Red, Green/Yellow)
7/11 at 9:45 pm
7/13 at 4:45 pm
7/14 at 9 pm
7/16 at 6:45 pm
7/18 at 9pm
PURCHASE TICKETS HERE.
This production is presented as a part of the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, a program of the Washington, DC non-profit Capital Fringe.
Artwork by Rich Anderson.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: Recovery by Mark Jason Williams.