BWW Review: Joanna Lipari Illuminates Universal Lessons Learned During a Life Well Lived in ACTIVITIES OF DAILY LIVING
In the West Coast premiere engagement of ACTIVITIES OF DAILY LIVING at Sierra Madre Playhouse, writer-performer Joanna Lipari presents 16 fast-paced scenes about her fully-lived life, overflowing with triumphs, mistakes, heartache, regrets and hopes. Directed by Beth Dunnington, Lipari's self-described "mostly autobiographical" solo show is accompanied by delightfully original animation created by Anna Bron, whose first foray into theatrical projection design is certainly not going to be her last, given how entertaining and heartfelt each of Lipari's episodes is presented to bring out the humor as well as the pathos of each situation.
Lipari begins by walking onstage dressed in a frumpy housedress, bemoaning that as an ageing woman (she admits to being 70) who has received her Medicare card, she feels society wants her to don a cloak of invisibility and just disappear from participating in the world or getting her voice heard. She then quotes from a pamphlet entitled Activities of Daily Living, which refers to a Geriatric Assessment measurement by professionals of what they consider are older people's capabilities for conducting their ongoing daily lives. And if you are an active senior, you may find the ADL and the very notion of it to be a bit insulting, especially when the most mundane of tasks, such as brushing your teeth, seem to be all an older person should want or be able to do. But before you can feel sorry for her, Lipari rips off the "old woman" clothes, announcing that she'll have none of that since she is still vital and more than ready to deal with any obstacles in her way.
And during the next hour, Lipari shares moments that have shaped her psyche along her life's journey, opening her heart and soul in ways universal to those of us who have experienced life during those same years. Certainly some of the lessons she has learned or life-changing events she has endured will ring true for most of us; a lost love (or two), an inanimate object that triggers deep feelings of regret; getting lost in a multi-level parking garage and feeling you will never find an escape route; or a chance meeting with strangers that renewed your belief that guardian angels live among us.
In brief, Lipari's stories are told on an empty stage with two wooden chairs at opposite sides, where she journeys to tell her tales in front of a large screen upon which Bron's perfectly timed animations increase the humanity of the tales, we are invited to experience the universal ups and downs along the long and winding road to old age. Beginning in Catholic School, Joanna confronts her nun and earns recognition from her classmates. Joanna experiments with girl power in her first foray into entrepreneurship, marketing Christmas elves sewn by her sister and best friend for her own personal profit. In college in the Sixties, she joins protest movements, as did many of us. Then as a single woman in New York, she breaks a young man's heart by asking him to leave after sex, claiming all she wanted was a one-night stand. But his left-behind black umbrella in the corner continued to haunt her for years as a physical reminder of the cruelty she inflicted on a kind-hearted young man.Coming to Hollywood pre the #MeToo movement, Joanna shares how she found love and a long-term marriage, which ultimately dissolved, symbolized by a Mayan artifact given to her by her husband's lover as a way to place a curse on her to end the marriage. Bron's graphics are especially effective during Lipari's description of how she removed the curse by performing an exorcism on the object with bleeding eyes. Her description was so graphic with the animation brilliantly reflected her words, that I almost felt as if I could hold the demented object in my own hand - or at least throw it against a wall to rid the world of its negativity. Perhaps the most spiritually uplifting tale, called Quatro Angeli, took place as Lipari sought to pick up the pieces from her failed marriage by going to Sicily to explore the roots of her paternal family. And after lost luggage and pouring rain delay her arrival at the old-world style, brick boarding house she has booked, venturing out to appease her hunger led Lipari to experience the miracle of human kindness. And thankfully, upon returning to Los Angeles, she discovers there is still more kindness to be found in the most unlikely of places when it is needed the most, giving her hope for the future exactly as she chooses to live it.
I found Lipari's encouragement to write about our own lives by sharing an event which triggered an emotional response that continues to resonate in our memory as a way to acknowledge where we have been and how we wish to live out our own golden years, a real challenge that I hope to explore with similar authenticity. So if, like me, you are a senior who refuses to be invisible, or are a younger person who wishes to be a vibrant and vital senior one day, then ACTIVITIES OF DAILY LIVING is a show guaranteed to inspire you to live life to the fullest.
Performances continue at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre, CA 91024, through February 23 on Friday/Saturday at 8pm, and Saturday/Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25 general; $20 seniors (65+); Youth (21 and under) $15, available by calling (626) 355-4318, online at http://sierramadreplayhouse.org or at the box office prior to each performance. Run time is approximately 65 minutes. There is parking available on the street and in free lots behind the Playhouse.
Photos courtesy of White Tiger Entertainment
A bit more background:Writer-performer Joanna Lipari was trained by Sanford Meisner at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, where a troupe she co-founded, The Cracked Tokens, was in residence at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Early roles off-Broadway and in regional theatres led to her coming to Los Angeles and joining the cast of General Hospital. Several roles in feature films and much work in television followed, notably the recurring role of The Director on Persons Unknown on NBC. She received a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine and did a post-graduate Fellowship at UCLA, going on to serve on the faculty of both institutions. As part of the Los Angeles theatre scene, Joanna won rave reviews for her work as Grandma Franca in Rogue Machine Theatre's World Premiere production of LUKA'S ROOM. And most recently, Joanna was part of Pacific Resident Theatre's revival of RHINOCEROS, which was both an L.A. Times Critics Choice as well as a recipient of a Los Angeles Critics Circle nomination. She is the mother of an adoptive daughter and two much-loved fur babies who are "more fun to sleep with than my ex."
Director Beth Dunnington is a graduate of Emerson College, based in Hawaii, where Activities of Daily Living had its World Premiere and she recently directed Company and The Last Five Years. For six years, she was Artistic Director of Two Islands Theatre (Manhattan and Bermuda), and has written extensively for animation television (Batman, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Steven Spielberg's Tiny Toon Adventures).