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BWW Review: Lauren Gunderson's THE HEATH at Arizona Theatre Company Is A Masterpiece That Must Be Heard To Be Seen

Lauren Gunderson's masterpiece! As audio play, runs through April 18th and is available for hearing at https://arizonatheatre.org/.

BWW Review: Lauren Gunderson's THE HEATH at Arizona Theatre Company Is A Masterpiece That Must Be Heard To Be Seen

BWW Review: Lauren Gunderson's THE HEATH at Arizona Theatre Company Is A Masterpiece That Must Be Heard To Be Seen

What's with Lauren Gunderson? This prolific and versatile playwright just doesn't seem to know how not to make a masterpiece!

Arizona Theatre Company's current production of her autobiographical tour de force, THE HEATH, proves the point.

THE HEATH is a play that must be heard to be seen for the fulness of its lyricism, revelatory power, and humanity.

And hear it we can as the Company, under the direction of Sean Daniels, presents it as an audio play, featuring the author herself and John Larroquette as the voice of her grandfather PawPaw, the object of her reflections and mixed affections.

In an interview prior to the world premiere of her autobiographical play, THE HEATH, at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in February 2019 (directed then by Daniels), Gunderson explained the driving force behind her work:

"I started the script before my PawPaw died as it occurred to me that the only reference I had for his condition was the literary figure of King Lear. My PawPaw was suffering from extreme dementia and could no longer recognize me. I lived in California, far away from him in South Carolina, which made that worse. When he died I was instantly regretful of all the time I didn't get with him and started writing this play. It's a love letter to him, an apology, and a reckoning, as well as a chance to discover a man I thought I knew so well."

In the context of apology and reckoning, Gunderson imagines conversations with her grandfather ~ at times lovingly nostalgic, at times painfully candid ~ the kind and depth of conversations one might wish had occurred before the passing of a parent, speaking feelings and truths and sharing life moments that needed to be spoken but never were. It becomes the "time to speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."

And in these imagined encounters, this marvel of storytelling ~ a catalogue of regrets and recriminations, clarifications, and understandings, and, ultimately, a journey toward forgiveness and absolution ~ Gunderson magnifies the work by drawing parallels between her relationship and that of King Lear and Cordelia. The actors glide from one scenario to the other, uttering pertinent passages from Shakespeare with intonation as crisp and poetic-sounding as their South Carolina accents.

All the while, the fact of PawPaw/Lear's dementia hovers over the dramatic narrative ~ "when you realize that someone you've loved and known your whole life no longer remembers you."

This cruel cloud that hovers over a beloved's life ~ this is, in large part, the "storm" to which Gunderson refers as a "metaphor for natural things that humans are useless to tame."

Yet, beyond apology and reckoning, Gunderson seeds the play with cloudbursts of wisdom and insights about matters of contemporary life that matter deeply (or should) to all of us: our obligations to future generations; the power of music (down home and banjo-style), "the church of theatre" (and the current state of the art form), and mortality.

As an audio play ~ sans stage, sans distractions ~ we allow our mind's eye and ear to capture the glorious rhythms and evocative words of Gunderson's masterpiece. And we are left grateful to have her paired with John Larroquette in what stands as a sterling production.

Bottom line: THE HEATH must be on your playgoer's bucket list!

Lauren Gunderson's THE HEATH, produced as an audio play with imagery ~ as part of Arizona Theatre Company's Digital Season ~ runs from 5:00 p.m. (Arizona Time), Wednesday, April 14th through 5:00 p.m., Sunday, April 18th and is available for hearing at https://arizonatheatre.org/, YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo.

Photo credit to ATC

Arizona Theatre Company ~ https://arizonatheatre.org/ ~ 1636 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ ~ Box Office ~ 602-256-6995


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