A daughter ponders what finally made her ‘Well’
WELLESLEY – As she addresses the audience in the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre at Wellesley College, Lisa Kron, played by Sebastian Ryder, admits that what’s about to happen on stage in the 100-minute production with no intermission is hardly a traditional play.
Instead, “Well” is an “exploration” of the question: Why are some people well and others not?
For Exhibit A, Lisa Kron will point to herself; and as Exhibit B, her perpetually ill mother Ann (Lisa Foley), who is sleeping peacefully in her recliner in a living room set to the right corner of the stage as the audience enters, continuing to doze during the early moments of the play.
Lisa Kron will advance the narrative and address the question in a multitude of ways – most of them very funny, indeed – aided and abetted by five other cast members.
From time to time, she will become part of scenes involving her younger self, or preside over other scenes having to do with her medical treatments.
At one point, theatrical chaos will ensue, with Kron losing control and even abandoning her post. It doesn’t all work, but the originality and cleverness shine through.“Well” blossomed off-Broadway in 2004, and eventually came to Broadway in 2006, garnering two Tony nominations, one for Lisa Kron playing herself.
Ryder’s Kron frequently leaves center stage and moves to an area stage left, where she presumably can’t be heard by her mother, and addresses us directly about her mother’s foibles, and her relationship with her.
There is no fourth wall or disconnect between the players and the audience; we are part of everything happening.
Indeed, once Ann Kron awakes, we are introduced as guests in Lisa’s “exploration.” And, once awake, Ann Kron is the picture of a warm welcoming Midwesterner, happy to entertain her guests, taking drink orders and distributing snacks. Foley slips into the role of Ann Kron as easily as she slips into her warm robe and slippers.
We learn Ann was an activist in the Krons’ West Side neighborhood in Lansing, Mich., where she was passionate about living in an integrated neighborhood. She led a neighborhood association dedicated to fostering community and making sure the neighborhood got the resources it needed to thrive.
Ann is obsessed with her allergies, and as those of us who are bedeviled by them can tell you, they are nothing to sneeze at. And she will go in great detail about the aches and pains and how they have crippled her quality of life.
A good portion of the play will detail Lisa’s experiences in the “Allergy Unit” of an unnamed local hospital, which apparently espoused voodoo, black magic, and quackery through heavy use of laxatives, fasting, and skin tests in an effort to “cure” patients.
Aided by the other cast members, she stage scenes of her childhood, and neighborhood parties and celebrations Ann Kron led.
Ann Kron’s asides are often hilarious. At one point she sits up straight with a look of concern. “You people didn’t pay to get in, did you?”
Later on, Ann will introduce herself to the cast members, who will gravitate to her like a long-lost family member, complicating things even further.
Foley has been a Wellesley Rep mainstay for many years and a part of several of its most acclaimed productions, including “The Mai,” The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” “The Trip to Bountiful,” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Daniel Boudreau, who leads the theater troupe Praxis Stage, lends energy and enthusiasm as the head nurse in the allergy unit and as the Krons’ neighbor Howard Norris; Jade Guerra is solid as a 9-year-old black girl named Lori who teases and bedevils a young Lisa and in several other roles; and Joshua Wolf Coleman is fine as another of Lisa’s playmates as well as a grown neighbor.
Recent Wellesley grad Diana Lobontiu has some nice moments as Lisa’s fellow patient disturbed at Lisa celebrating her sudden wellness in the allergy unit.
Alas, as is often the case with highly experimental shows of these types, a scene where the actors revolt against the script doesn’t work well as some of the other scenes, but it is true to the spirit of the piece.
Director Marta Rainer has cast well and allowed the brisk pace and the skills of he principals to carry the production over a couple of rough spots.
Eventually Lisa Kron, exuding earnestness and sincerity and the desire to honor and appreciate her mother but not become captive to her ills, will come up with a most interesting theory on how and when she suddenly became “well.”
If you find yourself appreciative of this early Kron work – or even if you don’t – I highly recommend “Fun Home,” the Tony Award-winning musical for which Kron wrote the book and lyrics, based on the best-selling graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. It will have a return engagement at Boston’s Speakeasy Stage Company from June 8-30.
Meanwhile, Wellesley Rep regulars can enjoy an early Kron success and – lest we forget – the delightful new seats in the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre.
The Wellesley Repertory Theatre production of “Well.” Written by Lisa Kron Directed by Marta Rainer. At the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre, Wellesley College, through Feb. 10. wellesleyrep.org.