One Day: Sarah House at Center Stage Theater

Peter Lackner Directs a Life-Affirming Play about Dying

One might expect that a play about a hospice home for dying homeless people would be depressing. Yet One Day: Sarah House is anything but. Last weekend’s world premiere at Center Stage Theater played to a sold-out house, and while many left with tears in their eyes, their smiles were radiant.

Matthew Tavianini (above) and Devin Scott in <em>One Day: Sarah House</em>, which runs through April 4 at Center Stage Theater.
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David Bazemore

Matthew Tavianini (above) and Devin Scott in One Day: Sarah House, which runs through April 4 at Center Stage Theater.

The play represents one day in the life of Sarah House, though time stretches to include historical vignettes and allegorical representations of the residents’ journeys to the end of their lives. In order to write the script, Doris Baizley spent time at Sarah House, observing and taking copious notes. Under Peter Lackner’s direction, five actors play multiple roles, including residents, their loved ones, staff members, and mythical Greek figures.

In this production, the actors flow from one character to another using transformations of posture and voice, with minimal costume changes. Tying it together is Matthew Tavianini as an all-seeing narrator. He inhabits this role beautifully, moving with grace between a spot-on, hands-and-knees portrayal of a dog and a storyteller dramatizing Sarah House residents as the heroes of ancient myths.

One Day: Sarah House

  • When: Saturday, April 4, 2009, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Cost: $10 - $25
  • Age limit: Not available

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Laurel Lyle is wonderfully versatile. Her roles include a new staff member-a useful device for filling in the audience on policies of Sarah House, which include Relentless Kindness-a dying woman who has a conversation with three horses in her favorite painting, a wise pigeon, and the Greek goddess Demeter.

Devin Scott portrays a Hell’s Angel, bitter for being confined to a wheelchair but with an unexpected layer of tenderness, as well as Hades, god of the underworld, with requisite intensity. Henry Brown-veteran actor of theater, TV, and film-lends a strength and stability to the proceedings as both Apollo and a seasoned member of the night staff, but also reveals the vulnerable side of an ex-NFL star who has left his glory days behind. Jennifer Aquino is reassuring as a long-time staff member, ethereal as Persephone, and heartrending as a young woman with terminal cancer undertaking a journey back home to Mexico to die in her mother’s arms.

Yes, it is poignant, even tragic, but One Day: Sarah House is also an uplifting, life-affirming experience.

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