Lorah Ashley Haskins
Marcy Weiland (front), playing Lisa Kron, ably skips between the grade school, college-age and adult versions of the character.
I should confess that I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to see Mercury Players Theatre's production of Well at their MercLab space on Fair Oaks, because the press release description sounded like more than I wanted to deal with on a Friday night. But I'm so glad I accepted the assignment. New York performance artist Lisa Kron's autobiographical play is smart, funny and thought-provoking, and the cast tackled it with skill and sensitivity.
Kron, the playwright, examines wellness and sickness, race relations and family bonds by sharing scenes of her life. As the main character, she addresses the audience directly with candor and insightful observations. Her mother Ann literally hovers above the action in her living room and injects herself into the production.
Ann is a fascinating woman who, despite suffering from a litany of medical problems, which she attributes to allergies, was able to lead a racially integrated Lansing, Michigan neighborhood out of decline. Kron is proud of her mother's achievements but confounded by her inability to shake her lingering and debilitating health problems. Kron also has her own health issues, and we witness her stint in the allergy unit of a Chicago hospital and learn of her fear that she'll end up like her mom.
The production is a hodgepodge of Kron's recollections and stories that span decades, but Marcy Weiland, playing Lisa Kron, ably skips between the grade school, college-age and adult versions of Lisa. It's a big, challenging role, and what impressed me most about Weiland is that her connection to the material was so genuine that I could imagine she was indeed Kron, that this was the first time this production was being workshopped.
Jan Levine Thal is also convincing at Ann Kron, particularly as she describes her experience in the 1950s, when she was a young white woman in a black neighborhood of segregated Baltimore. The four other members of the ensemble play multiple roles and are referred to in the program simply as characters A, B, C and D. Susan Carnell as B was particularly versatile, but everyone brought something good to their roles.
Art tends to resonate most when we recognize ourselves or people we know in it. Kron's intelligent and honest material often hit home with me. I found myself smirking when she revealed her Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession, accompanied by sunbonnets and prairie garb, because that was me circa 1974. As the white mother of a black child living in a predominately white neighborhood, I heard my own naive assumptions and prejudices in the commentary on race issues. As the daughter of a charming, but occasionally frustrating mother I completely believed the family dynamic.
Director Rachel Jenkins-Bledsoe has her hands full, because there's a lot going on in this show. A lesser director could have ended up with a mess instead of this quirky and compelling achievement by Mercury. I left feeling entertained and challenged. I also left with back pain because of the cramped seats at the lab space. This production deserves a more accommodating home.