SPANISH FORK — One of the hardest parts of mourning is discovering that those close to you might experience the same loss very differently. Some people may grieve quietly and quickly move on with their daily lives, while others can’t imagine ever getting out of bed again. Resuscitation portrays the conflicting grieving processes of the Ballinger family after the death of their son.
The action begins five months after Dayman Ballinger’s death. Hector Ballinger (Kacey Spadafora) is consumed by grief to the disruption of every aspect of his life, and his brother Morgan (Taylor Jack Nelson) and wife Donna (Lisa Steele) are deeply concerned for his welfare. Morgan and Donna have both found ways to balance their grief with the demands of life, and they are worried by Hector’s apparent refusal to pull himself together. Hector, on the other hand, is confused and hurt by their apparent callousness in so quickly brushing off Dayman’s death. In response to their encouragement to move forward, Hector retorts, “I’m sorry you don’t approve of my pain.”
The script (written by Kacey Spadafora) provides a masterful tour of Hector’s psyche. The audience follows Hector’s perspective through the present day mingled with visions of Dayman (Paige Porter) casually acknowledging his own death and loitering around the house, and with flashbacks to the days immediately prior to Dayman’s death. Director Allison Otterstrom employed lighting changes and fluid transitions to weave together the past and present in a manner that made them discernible while intertwined. The script often provides information and flashbacks out of chronological order. Impressively, temporally disarranging the scenes lent the play interest without making it confusing.
Resuscitation creates a story arc of Hector’s emotional experience without following a series of linear events. In doing so, it mirrors the mourning process: rather than some pivotal experience catapulting a mourner back to emotional health, one might simply wake up to find that this morning one is ready to step outside for a few more minutes than he was the day before. The play beautifully presents the complexity of grief by exploring the emotions associated with events that might seem commonplace to a casual observer.
All that said, while the themes and emotions portrayed were absolutely lovely, some of the script needed polishing. Amidst poignant dialogue and well written humor were occasional lines that didn’t flow well in conversation and expressions the actors did their best with and just couldn’t make sound natural.
Several of the actors were fantastic. Paige Porter was remarkable as the quirky 12-year old Dayman. Porter reminded me of every 12-year-old boy I’ve ever known, communicating emotions through body language while maintaining a generally expressionless face and vocal monotone. Donna Jenice Hatch made only a few appearances as Celia Thomas-Montgomery, Hector’s college ex-girlfriend, but her performance was memorable. Hatch felt like a real person, a pleasant conversationalist unexpectedly finding herself a character in another person’s grieving process.
Of all the actors, Lisa Steele as Donna Ballinger took the longest time to grow on me. Her emotions often didn’t seem to fit her situation, and it wasn’t until her final scene that I felt a convincing chemistry between her and Spadafora. In their final scene together, Steele and Spadafora gave compelling performances that encapsulated both their feelings for each other as well as their individual grief.
Resuscitation was performed at Boothe Brothers Performing Arts Center, which is more commonly used for concerts than theater. The space worked well for the production, though, and the stage suited the commonplace furnishings of the Ballinger front room and kitchen. There were some very noticeable sound problems, with microphones rustling against clothing and skin and frequently catching background noise in a distracting manner, but the sound quality improved about midway through the play. The wardrobes were simple, with Paige Porter’s brief stint in a scuba suit being the only noteworthy costume change.
I would recommend seeing Resuscitation. Spadafora’s creative storytelling techniques rendered aspects of the mourning process in a new light. Without casting blame or choosing sides, the play provided a portrait of one family’s experience with death that was familiar and at times heart wrenching. Even though it made me cry, Resuscitation was more inspiring than depressing. I left with a deeper understanding of love and a new appreciation of the ties that bind families together.