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Well: Laughter Is Good Medicine

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Written by Lisa Kron; directed by Leigh Silverman; scenic design by Tony Walton; costume design by Miranda Hoffman; lighting design by Christopher Akerlind; original music and sound design by John Gromada

Cast in order of appearance:

Lisa, Lisa Kron
Ann, Mary Pat Gleason
Howard, and others, John McAdams
Jim, and others, Colman Domingo
Kay, and others, Donnetta Lavinia Grays
Joy, and others, Barbara Pitts

Playwright/actress Lisa Kron brought her clever and mad-cap comedy Well – which she self-mockingly describes as not a play but a "multi-character theatrical exploration of issues of health and wellness" – to the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston recently and proved once again why this free-wheeling but brilliantly structured fourth wall breaker is such a crowd pleaser. Mixing straightforward storytelling with unconventional performance art, Well comically examines the universal mother/daughter push/pull we all know and love by revealing in progressively more detailed layers the complexities of Kron's own relationship with her mother, Ann.

Kron plays herself, a writer trying to stage her work with the help of four actors who assume the roles of multiple characters from her past. Seated in a well worn recliner to the left of her is her mother, played by the charmingly engaging Mary Pat Gleason. As Kron and her cast perform the conveniently sanitized script of her life as a child and young adult, Ann continually breaks in to correct her, stating, "It's not that simple. You're telling it wrong." Kron, it seems, is trying to avoid the painful comparisons between her mother's lifelong, chronic, debilitating fatigue and her own early medical history. Whereas Ann was and is forever ill, Kron mysteriously overcame her allergies to become, at least for now, well.

As herself, Kron is wonderfully vulnerable while trying unsuccessfully to stay in control. She cleverly exposes her own insecurities and imperfections by scrupulously trying to conceal them. As her mother, Gleason is sheer delight. Her salt-of-the-earth Michigan accent and unassuming but very funny straightforwardness endear her to Kron's on-stage actors and to the audience alike. She is simultaneously uncomfortable in the spotlight that her daughter has shone upon her and oddly energized by it once the response to her storytelling is positive.

Kudos also go to John McAdams, Colman Domingo, Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Barbara Pitts for their expert ensemble work. Their comic characterizations, especially Grays' outrageous school-yard bully, make the play's transitions from "performance" to "real life" seem natural and snappy. Their split-second timing also keeps the pace light and breezy.

Tony Walton's deceptively simple set acts like a seventh character in Well. As the tightly woven structure of Kron's play within the play breaks down in comic pandemonium, so do the performance space's walls and fixtures. Past demons and present reality intrude into Kron's meticulously constructed script to the point where her world quite literally and figuratively shatters. By the end only mother Ann's modest living room sanctuary, replete with her own and her daughter's mementos, remains intact.

It makes one wonder about the definitions of health and illness. But, then, isn't that what Kron said Well was all about from the start?

Next Up: "Present Laughter" starring Victor Garber, May 18-June 17, Huntington Theatre Company, BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston
Box Office: 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org

PHOTO CREDITS:

1. Mary Pat Gleason as Ann and Lisa Kron as Lisa
2. Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Lori and Lisa Kron as Lisa

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

 


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