BWW Review: BLACKBERRY WINTER at Orlando Shakes
My mother is....
For many, these three little words evoke things such as "interesting," "crazy," or even "getting old." But when you hear "My mother is suffering - no not suffering - living with Alzheimer's disease," these three little words take on a whole new meaning. When your own mother starts to forget you, do you even know your mother anymore? Do you even know yourself? These are the questions Vivienne painstakingly tries to answer in Steve Yockey's BLACKBERRY WINTER.
In spite of this earth-shattering news, Vivienne, played by Suzanne O'Donnell, gets through it all with "a smile made of granite" as she says. She carefully examines her own inner capacity to deal with her mother's disease while she prepares to face the fact that the Alzheimer's has progressed to the point of moving her mother from an assisted living facility to a nursing home. With a slight southern accent and a sweet but terrified look in her eye, O'Donnell moved the audience immensely with her fight to keep her senses and not get thrown overboard in the midst of her struggle.
Set on a stage with thirteen different pedestals, each holding something significant to the memories she holds dear of her mother, she proceeds to tell the audience the different stories surrounding her mother's Alzheimer's - some funny and others absolutely heartbreaking. O'Donnell's Vivienne shows a sense of resiliency but also a strong sense of humor and storytelling. Her origin story of Alzheimer's involving a gray mole (played by Kody Grassett) and a white egret (played by Mindy Anders) weaves in and out of her stories and memories of her mother in a balanced and fanciful fashion. While Vivienne's monologs are engaging, the story of the gray mole and the white egret is needed as it gives the audience a much-needed respite. The white egret is the peacekeeper of the forest who tries to collect all of the animal memories so that the forest can remain the beautiful, perfect place they all know. But, as with any good story, trouble abounds when the gray mole enters the picture. He unknowingly brings about disaster when he finds the memories the egret has so carefully buried underground and digs into them.
BLACKBERRY WINTER is astounding in so many ways. This compassionate production not only takes a hard look at the universal question of how to care for aging family members but also how to care for one's self through the process. Vivienne's care for her mother becomes her new normal, but she never lets it overtake her completely. For instance, she recognizes that although she is her mother's caregiver now, her mother will always be her mother - that is, it's not the same dynamic as taking care of an infant per say. She also continues her love of baking. Though she sometimes looks defeated and wary of the world, Vivienne is a fighter and truly an inspiration.
BLACKBERRY WINTER plays now through February 5 at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. You can view show times and purchase tickets at orlandoshakes.org.
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