BWW Review: Hilarious Healing Makes us 'WELL' at Birmingham Festival Theatre
Have you ever wondered if your family makes you sick? Not sick like that fool cousin who brought an Elephant bounce house to the family reunion in Auburn. Sick like frequently visiting the hospital with a growing list of ailments when ever you get near the family. This is the foundation where writer Lisa Kron builds her surreal theatrical exploration, "Well." The play is set up as a one-woman show that just happens to have a cast of other people. Lisa (Holly Croney Dikeman) is filled with questions and observations around her sickly mother Ann (Carole Armistead). She is sick with a laundry list of problems, and has been for years. The show opens with her napping in her recliner next to an end table with numerous amber prescription bottles. This is a scene all to familiar when thinking about our elders. Lisa breaks the 4th wall and explains to the audience her situation. Ann (Armistead) awakes. Startled to be included in her play. "You didn't tell me there were people here." She then tries to fuss over the audience with getting refreshments and snacks. Lisa takes the reins and her memory replays arrive in waves. Lisa (Dikeman) is center stage as an active participant, spectator and narrator to moments in her past. Each recall reveals another layer leading to where Lisa is at in her mind today.
This is a not a play I can describe easily. Imagine you and side by side with a friend having an inner monologue with herself. Add to this mix, conversations with her mother, her past, and a crew of actors charged with bringing Lisa's thoughts and emotions to life as a black-box play of exploration into her past. (whew) It's a very ambitious way to tell a story. Director David Strickland however brings this production to a smooth flight and landing without loosing the audience along the way. His staging and pacing set the actors up for success with this script.
Lisa (Dikeman) is frustrated and judgmental of her mother for being ill for so many years. She describes her as "an energetic woman trapped in an exhausted body." Ann (Armistead) is a woman made of solid stock, illness be dammed. Lisa feels her own sickness with 'allergies" is attributed to exposure around her mothers illness.
Along for this journey, the quartet of "actors" play different characters at various points in Lisa's story. As a child, present day and time at the "allergy" center getting treatment. The play highlights Ann's pride stemming from pushing for social integration in their community. Memories in flashbacks play out to give an honest perspective into what its like to be a white kid in a black neighborhood.
Holly Croney Dikeman delivers Lisa with a rollercoaster performance of ranged emotions showing the characters semi-balanced neurosis. Carole Armistead plays Ann with a honed embrace of a woman of passion suffering under the heavy weight of illness. She has a wonderful presence and delivery that truly touches your heart. The five actors Lisa has "cast" to tell her tale each bring big amounts of touching, charming and hilarious character work. Excellent commitment and energy from Saxon Murrell, Tonya Marshall, Robert Burgins, Jr., Francesca Scallici, and Chalen Law
Mindy Wester Egan's set and lighting give expressive charm to a beautifully decorated living room set that looks like every "Me-Maw's" house I've ever been too
"Well" is a creative and moving play. The storytelling devises are creative and fit the subject matter perfectly. The play runs without an intermission or medical diagnosis. Your sides may hurt from laughter and you may have a tear or two.
Birmingham Festival Theatre
Well by Lisa Kron
Directed by David Strickland
CAST: Holly Croney Dikeman, Carole Armistead, Saxon Murrell, Tonya Marshall, Robert Burgins, Jr., Francesca Scallici, Chalen Law
Birmingham Festival Theatre
1901 1/2 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
June 28 - July 14 8pm (Sun June 8th - 2pm)
Tickets - $25 ($10 Student)
For more info: (205) 933-2383 or www.bftonline.org
Photo Credit: Steven Ross