BWW Review: WELL Explores Wellness & Personal Narrative at Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company
What truly makes us "well"? Is wellness some otherworldly notion or mindset that we consciously choose or decide not to choose? How much power does an individual genuinely have over their wellness, or lack thereof? Additionally, how much influence does an individual have over the wellness of others? These are just a few of the questions that the cast and creatives of Lisa Kron's WELL, currently in performance at Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company, ask the audience to consider as they witness a "multicharacter theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in the individual and in a community".
Mildred's Umbrella seems to always be able to come up with entertaining and comedic plays that also urge the audience member into empathetic thought and consideration. Directed by Bree Bridger, WELL certainly falls into that category of both comedic delight and mental-emotional intensity, as one of the characters points out during the play, speaking to the playwright onstage, "Lisa...this play is intense".
WELL intentionally breaks the fourth wall as a memory play narrated by onstage playwright Lisa, portrayed by Sammi Sicinski. Sicinski walks the audience through what the play is intended to be, though her thoughtful organization of scenes gets intentionally interrupted by stories of her and her mother, Ann's (Sally Burtenshaw) past, childhood rememberings, and brief asides where Lisa attempts to clarify moments for the audience. Sicinski was the source of many humorous one-liners, and her sporadic and honest language of storytelling was one that I feel everyone present could relate to.
Lisa often reminds the audience that this play is an exploration of sorts, not merely just a play about her and her mother's experiences with sickness and wellness. Not only does WELL explore issues of social activism, the idea of wellness, and the psychological role that can influence wellness or sickness, but it also toys with the ideas of dramatic structure.
The structure of the play holds meaning in and of itself, as it is not built as what some might say is a typical play. Bridger points out that this play "is also about making sense of our narrative when there's so much to consider, and the attempt to analyze and solve a life neatly". In reality, if any one of us tried to tell a significant moment of time from our lives in the format of a play, it would likely look much like WELL does as a play: sporadic and nonsensical, but also natural and lifelike, because life does not neatly contain an exposition, rising action, climax, etc. Bridges goes on to say, "It is about what we think is most important in our stories, what others think is important in theirs, and who gets to decide what parts are worth telling".
WELL was made up of an ensemble including Callina Anderson, Shelby Marie Blocker, Sally Burtenshaw, Xzavien Hollins, and Ryan Kelly, who grasped the format of the play very well and acted their various characters both wholly and authentically. WELL contained all the best elements of storytelling, and offered the audience an outlet to empathize with experiences with sickness, wellness, and your own personal narrative.
Mildred's Umbrella opened Lisa Kron's WELL on January 18th, and will run performances through February 3rd. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm, with a matinee on January 28th at 3:00pm, and Pay-What-You-Can night on January 29th at 8:00pm. Tickets are $25 for regular admission, and $15 for Students, Seniors, and Arts Industry. The group rate is $15/ticket. Tickets can be purchases at www.mildredsumbrella.com or at the door. For more information, call 832-463-0409 or email email@example.com.