“Well” at Seattle Rep

This is a play that received rave reviews in New York. Here in Seattle some in the audience on the night I attended walked out fairly early in the production, and, among those who stayed, some gave it a standing ovation. I didn’t walk out, but I certainly wouldn’t give it a standing ovation.

Playwright Lisa Kron has written an autobiographical work focusing on the mother-daughter relationship. In this case, Lisa is played by Sarah Rudinoff and the mother by Barbara Dirickson. Neither character is in good health. Lisa considers her mother a hypochondriac, but Lisa too has her issues, and a good part of the play, probably too much of it, takes place while she’s undergoing treatment in a hospital allergy unit where milk of magnesia and enemas provide the focus for some of its humor.

Another emphasis is the racial integration of their hometown, an effort in which the mother played a key role. Mom is an active social advocate. Just as she and Lisa are sick individuals, so is their neighborhood sick. Fortunately, Mom’s interventions have salutary results.

So we have illness vs. wellness, and bigotry vs. integration in a play that purports to be really about the trials and tribulations of the mother/daughter relationship. For me it was just a bit too much.

The star role here is that of the mother. It might be Lisa’s play, but her mother is the powerhouse. We see her before we even know the play has begun. In halting, labored steps she climbs down stairs leading into the living room, where much of the play takes place, then sinks into a comfy chair and doesn’t seem able to move for the rest of the play. Barbara Dirickson as the mother gives her all the exhaustion, weakened condition, but steely convictions the part calls for. This woman may be a near invalid, but she has had the gumption and power to effect social change, despite her inability to meet all her daughter’s needs.

But don’t get the idea that this is a deeply message-driven play. It’s a comedy, and much of it is very funny, some of it a bit sophomoric, but there are lots and lots of laughs as the playwright explores the often difficult relationship between mother and daughter.

Through March 5 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, 206 443-2222 or Seattlerep.org).

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