SALT LAKE CITY — Several years ago I read the play Well in a dramatic literature class and absolutely fell in love with it. The level of meta-theatricality and its deconstruction of contemporary performance trends really resonated with me and it has since been at the top of my list of favorite plays I have encountered. It is a difficult, intricate text to perform and the Pygmalion Theatre Company rose to the challenge with their production that opened the 24th of February.
Well is a quasi-autobiographical piece wherein playwright Lisa Kron has inserted herself into a play about a theatrical performance that she writes about healing and sickness. The world of the play allows for actors to play actors who are a part of Kron’s “theatrical construct” and therefore comments not only on the ideas of wellness versus sickness, but on the bounds of theatrical conventions and the power of theatre.
Playing the part of Kron was Equity actress Cheryl Gaysunas (who last appeared at the Salt Lake Acting Company world premier of Charm) and her performance was nothing short of spectacular. The play requires not only that she play Kron but that she play Kron in a play written about her own life and interacting with her mother and the issues between them. As the play within a play that Kron writes begins to crumble Gaysunas gave an honest and believable depiction of a woman losing control and having to deal with issues that she set out not to deal with. Her interaction with Anne Cullimore Decker (who played herself playing Kron’s mother Jane) was heartfelt and torturous and resonated with the audience in a truthfully comedic way. Likewise Decker’s performance was powerful and made us love Jane Kron and feel for her in her state of hypochondria. The relationship between these women was strong and deeply rooted and caused the audience to truly reflect on the themes of the show.
Design-wise the set ( recreated Jane Kron’s dated living room in one half of the stage, and an empty stage space for Kron’s “theatrical exploration” to take place. This juxtaposition served to underscore the themes discussed in the piece and allowed for visually compelling stage pictures. The lighting plan was simple and helped with the story telling as it switched between the two playing spaces and then blended them as the lines between them blurred. One particularly brilliant design moment was during Jane’s longest speech after Lisa has stormed off the stage in frustration and the elderly woman is left onstage to tell stories and as her long stories progress the lighting slowly faded until it was quite dark and the focus on her words and the power of her storytelling was overpowering. It was a brilliant moment. (Lighting and Set Design by Cory A. Thorell)
This production was simply fantastic. Director Jason Bowcutt brings some great work to the Rose Wagner Blackbox. I had never been to a show by the Pygmalion Theatre Company before now, but I am excited to see more. Well is a must-see show this month in Salt Lake City.