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Six characters in search of a cure

Theater Review: Out of Pocket Productions presents "Well" 

Six characters in search of a cure

I don't know if it is postmodern, or meta-theatrical — or neither or both — but Lisa Kron's "Well" is a clever, humane, and thought-provoking play. At the beginning of the show, Kron, who is the play's writer as well as its main character, tells the audience they are in for a "theatrical exploration" of sickness and wellness, and I suppose that's as good a description as any. "Well" is very theatrical, and it explores some interesting questions about what we perceive to be illness and health, and how we interact with the "characters" in our own life stories.

Lisa Kron (Stephanie Roosa), prominent writer and performer, is presenting her latest theater piece, in which she poses the question, "Why do some people get sick and stay sick, while others get sick and stay well?" In the first category, Lisa puts her mother Ann (Vicki Casarett), who has suffered from debilitating allergies all her life, but managed to turn their Lansing suburban neighborhood into a fully integrated one in the 1960's. In the second category Lisa definitely puts herself. Not only did she undergo successful treatment at an allergy clinic as a young woman, Lisa thinks that in leaving home to pursue an artistic career and her own interests, she has "cured" herself of her family and its ills.

Of course, she's wrong — and the play gets really interesting, as Ann (who is none too pleased with being a character in a play) interrupts the action to point out inconsistencies in Lisa's retelling. The daughter keeps trying to take control of her play, but Ann eventually prevails; in fact the other actors in "Well" decide they prefer Ann's story to Lisa's self-justification, and leave in protest. Ann finally has her say at the end, when Lisa reads a moving little speech her mother gave to the neighborhood association. Lisa realizes that some questions about the lives of her family members will always remain unanswered.

"Well" is difficult to describe, but easy to follow in Out of Pocket's production. This cerebral "we're all in a play" approach to theater conventions, characters, and storytelling is at least as old as Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author," but Kron keeps the action funny and engaging — and eventually, quite serious. Director Cece McFarland keeps the constantly changing action clear, well-timed, and perfectly pitched.

All of these theatrical head games are firmly anchored by the two female leads. As Ann Kron, Vicki Casarett gives a performance full of droll details, but presents a well-judged character arc, from supposed ditziness at the beginning to true moral and emotional stature at the end. I don't think she raises her voice once in the play, but her quiet authority sets the tone of the show.

Stephanie Roosa delivers many of Lisa's lines with the right dryly, witty touch, and she is not afraid to play her less sympathetic moments honesty. The two women complement each other well; through some acting alchemy, they really seem like a mother and daughter, even though they look and act nothing alike.

Casarett and Roosa are supported by an outstanding ensemble. These four performers play adults and children encountered by Kron in her neighborhood while growing up, a doctor and fellow patients in the allergy clinic, and themselves — the increasingly dissatisfied cast members of "Well."

Each of the four in the ensemble has their standout moments. Morey Fazzi plays an amusingly unctuous doctor, and Mickey Market is hilarious and a bit harrowing as Lisa's roommate at the clinic, who seems to be allergic to life itself. Jacqueline Moe plays every third-grade girl's loudmouthed classmate from hell, and turns around to play a clinic patient who describes herself as "sick of being sick." Corwin Alexander creates a rounded character in just a few lines as the Krons' drunken neighbor — and also plays his son. And I suppose it's not amiss to say that all four of them play themselves very, well ... well.

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