In these days of political madness/mayhem, “Well,” now playing at Seattle Repertory Theatre is just what the doctor ordered. Hilarity and a chance to see Sarah Rudinoff and Barbara Didrikson in playwright Lisa Kron’s autobiographical play.
Thanks to Braden Abraham’s crisp, well-paced, and seamless direction, the invisible fourth wall that separates actors from the audience is nowhere to be seen.
Kron’s one-woman show — oops, as she describes, a solo show with other people in it — unfolds in a series of theatrical recreations and explorations.
During her opening monologue, Rudinoff, as Lisa, makes a point of telling us that it’s not about herself and her mother.
But, of course, it is.
Rather, Lisa asserts, her play deals with issues of illness and wellness. She tells us that she comes from a family where everyone is ill, and she wants to know, “Why are some people sick and other people well?”
As the Bard said, “therein lies the rub.”
Nothing goes according to plan. The play meanders off course. As Lisa recreates scenes from her life, she and her mother Ann remember things differently. Eventually, even the supporting cast members step out of character to share their opinions with Ann and the audience,
The dynamic Rudinoff guides us through episodes of Lisa’s life. Growing up Jewish in a predominately Christian area. Her high school nemesis. A neighborhood Fourth of July celebration complete with Uncle Sam on stilts. Her battle with allergies — her mother’s as well as her own. Her mother’s crusade to integrate their Lansing, Michigan neighborhood. And her mother’s continual ill health.
Some of the most amusing scenes take place at the allergy clinic where doctors and patients cheerfully share every detail of their medical treatments. Not Lisa, who introduces herself, “I’m just here for the enema.”
From the audience’s perspective Ann’s home inhabits stage right, while stage left showcases what Lisa calls “a multi-character theatrical exploration.” As the show opens, mother Ann is asleep in her well-used/shabby La-Z-Boy recliner, where Lisa explains, she has spent most of her life. Mama Ann is surrounded by what some might call “comforting clutter.” Bookcases overflow with papers, magazines, books, tchotchkes and plastic containers. Occasionally, she gets up and maneuvers the onstage staircase, as if she were painfully climbing a mountain/Mount Rainier.
In between naps, Ann chides her daughter for not offering the audience something to eat and drink. And when Lisa tries to explain what she is doing, Ann quips, “I just want to know if I need to go upstairs and hide until you’re done.”
Although Kron played herself both Off-Broadway and on Broadway, the dynamic Sarah Rudinoff takes on the role at Seattle Rep. And she is terrific. She steps into the spotlight and establishes herself as a cheeky raconteur. She is joined by the amazing Barbara Dirickson, who portrays Kron’s real-life mother Ann.
Dirickson is a treasure. I first saw her onstage when she was co-starring in “The Royal Family,” my Seattle bow as a theater critic. I remember one scene in particular. When her co-star Frank Corrado delivers a dashing and entertaining monologue, I told myself that Dirickson could never match it, let alone top it. She did both.
I have never forgotten that performance, I missed her when she left Seattle for LA, so I couldn’t wait to see her onstage again.
She hasn’t lost her touch.
An outstanding supporting cast plays numerous roles from doctors and nurses to patients and neighborhood kids. The quintet: Chantal DeGroat, Liz McCarthy, Reginald Andre Jackson, Adrian LaTourelle, and Emma Blessing, who tears up the stage as Lori Jones, Lisa’s mean girl/nasty nemesis.
However you feel about your own mother or daughter, you will relate to this play. Besides the hilarity, there is an underlying meaning that may reflect our own mother/daughter memories.
I thought of my own mother and how she endured my rebellious nature: The time she tried to teach me to foxtrot. The time she taught me to make a piecrust. When she insisted that I learn how to iron the proper way. When she made me sit still while she put my hair in ringlet curls. When she ordered my first bra and it was too small. Or when we would hang the laundry outside on the close line — even during the winter. And how fresh it smelled as a result,
Onstage, Lisa and her mother Ann aren’t dancing or making pies. But they’re making us laugh and think.
There’s just a few days left to see this wonderful production. So pull yourself away from the twittering and mendacity of politics and head to Seattle Rep for 95 minutes of “Well.” And the chance to see the glorious Barbara Didrikson onstage again.
As I left the theater, I found myself thinking about the classic western, “Shane.” I felt like young Joey, waving to Shane and begging him to return, Only, I was pleading “Come back Barbara, please come back.”
“Well,” runs through March 5 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 206-443-2222 or visit www.seattlerep.org.