by Alan Jozwiak
“I’m just here for the enemas”
The enemas reference is a quip from the playwright and main character of “Well,” Lisa Kron (Samantha Joy Luhn), concerning her decision to check herself into an allergy unit instead of being in classes during her first year of college.
The need to cleanse oneself of toxins in order to be “well” is a recurring theme in this autobiographical piece. Lisa Kron, best known for her work on the Tony-Award winning musical “Fun Home,” has written an engaging piece of theatre where she exposes her past and bares herself to the audience.
Kron describes the piece as “a multicharacter theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in the individual and in a community.” A better description may be that “Well” is a solo performance with other people in it, the words that director Burgess Byrd used to describe the play.
“Well” has many levels and layers, from a discussion of allergies, racial imbalances (Kron’s family lived in a multiracial community outside of Chicago), and conflicts that come out of mother-daughter dynamics. Added to this mix is Kron’s insistence of breaking theatrical conventions. Actors go in and out of character, break the fourth wall, and disrupt the carefully constructed conventions that Kron (and the theatrical representation of herself) have created to move the action forward.
This piece feels like a cross between “‘night Mother” and “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” It centers itself within ongoing tensions between mother and daughter. As in “Six Characters,” the play also uses and then quickly discards theatrical conventions to explore the ideas and themes in the world it has created.
All these elements could be difficult to master, but director Burgess Byrd rose to the challenge and made sense out of what could be chaos. Byrd has been a staple of the Cincinnati theater scene as an actor and with this directorial debut, she has proven herself able to tackle this challenging material.
With an actor’s eye, Byrd finds ways to humanize characters and situations while drawing the audience into the action. This is important because the piece comes out of a performance art tradition where the humanity and connection to the audience sometimes takes second place.
Byrd has assembled a strong and capable cast for this production. Samantha Joy Luhn has the difficult task of playing the playwright-performer Lisa Kron. Luhn perfectly embodies the role of an uptight playwright who is coming to grips with illness–both her own and the medical problems of her mother Ann Kron (Angela Alexander Nalley). Luhn walks through these experiences with a blend of Alice-in-Wonderland astonishment and bravado built up from a lifetime of handling trouble.
Angela Alexander Nalley does a wonderful job being Lisa Kron’s mother. Nalley beautifully balances being the worrying mom and the gracious host, offering up drinks and snacks to the audience at the start of the show (I got one of the snack bags that she tossed out into the audience).
Perhaps the most difficult thing that Nalley has to do comes before the show begins. For the preshow, Nalley is resting in a reclining chair in her living room, eyes closed, oblivious to the audience. This becomes an apt metaphor for the unexamined life, something that her daughter will be countering over the course of the play. Bravo for her fortitude in not actually falling asleep.
Falcon Theatre’s stage is an ideal venue for “Well” because of the intimacy of their theater space. This play needs its audience to be drawn into the action and a smaller venue like Falcon works as an accelerant to draw audiences into the world of “Well.”
This regional premiere of an experimental play is a bold move on Falcon’s part and I applaud them for taking a chance on something outside of the ordinary. “Well” is a play that dwells both in the ordinary world of everyday life and in the extraordinary imagination of the playwright. It takes us on a human journey of discovery filled with moments of laughter and instances of human connection.
“Well” by Lisa Kron runs November 19, 20, 26, 27, December 2, 3, 4 2021. All performances begin at 8:00 P.M at Falcon Theatre located at 636 Monmouth St, Newport, KY 41071. For ticket information, visit the Falcon Theatre website at https://www.falcontheatre.net.