Coming to terms with the past in order to embrace a healthier future provides the relatable foundation of Lisa Kron’s fascinating and thought-provoking 2004 autobiographical play Well, terrifically presented by the senior-themed theater troupe Young at Heart Players at the Dayton Playhouse.
This kooky yet engaging play-within-a-play about parent-child relationships, illness and social activism concerns the playful tug-of-war down memory lane between Lisa Kron (Annie Pesch) and her chronically fatigued mother Ann Kron (Barbara Jorgensen). Lisa’s main goal is to decipher, in a universal context, what makes people sick and what makes them well? What lies within the transition from sickness to wellness? Do you lose a sense of self along the way for good or bad? With a therapeutic mindset and incorporating the innate theatricality of metatheatre, which particularly eliminates the fourth wall allowing actors to directly address and involve the audience, Lisa addresses significant moments of her life, particularly her childhood insecurities and her eye-opening stay at an allergy clinic. As these moments transpire, Ann’s progressive creation of the West Side Neighborhood Association in Lansing, Michigan receives major attention. The Association helped bring people from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds together in order to form a stronger community bound by social activities rather than political ties.
Pesch, seamlessly and fluidly co-directing with her mother and YAH founder Fran Pesch, creates a beautifully complex portrayal of the agitated, befuddled and ultimately grateful Lisa. Her skillful command of the script’s colorfully offbeat structure is effortless and impressive. She also importantly establishes a light yet appropriately uptight rapport with her cast and the audience to fully sell the material’s unconventionality, which at times feels like a one-woman show thanks to a distinct time warp-esque sound cue and Richard Lee Waldeck’s sharp lighting.
Pesch also receives outstanding support from YAH veteran Jorgensen, whose motherly warmth and down-to-earth realism absolutely shines especially as Ann keeps the audience firmly in her grasp. Jorgensen weaves in and out of the action with finesse, humorously commenting on Ann’s diuretics or her admiration for figure skating, but her finest and most poignant scene arrives late in the play. She wonderfully delivers Ann’s life-changing monologue centered on her belief that integration was the key to a better world not only for her but her neighbors. The monologue is so impactful and moving I wonder why Kron didn’t expand the play just a little bit more to allow greater investigation into Ann and her Lansing legacy.
In addition, strong ensemble work is offered by Bryana Bentley, Justin Lampkins, Kerry Simpson, and Steve Strawser who take on multiple roles with charm and vibrancy, particularly Bentley and Lampkins who receive the most flavorful material.
Like life itself, Well is funny yet cynical, enlightening yet complicated, intriguing yet messy. Just when you have it figured out it veers down a road you didn’t know existed. If you’re looking for a unique theatrical experience, don’t miss this show.
Well continues through June 10 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are 8 pm Friday and Saturday and 2 pm Sunday. The production is performed in 90 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students. Tickets may be purchased at the door. Cash or check only. Reservations can be made by calling Fran Pesch at (937) 654-0400. For additional information, visit youngatheartplayers.com.