This first production by Dramatic Women since the 2010 death of founder Bob Potter presented three insightful and engaging short plays shaped by direct experiences of personal loss. The sold-out opening night buzzed with enthusiastic and sympathetic supporters.
Catherine Cole’s powerfully poetic monologue Always. Together. tells the true story of a cancerous growth on Cole’s quadriceps that led to amputation. This solo performance piece was delivered by Cole herself — the only work of the evening performed by a writer. The title comes from the first line, “Once there were two, always together,” and refers not to an interpersonal relationship, but to Cole’s legs. With whimsy, chiseled language, and Latin-laden anatomical description, Cole frames this harrowing tale within a wider life-meditation on the genesis of body image.
Playwright Ellen K. Anderson, Potter’s surviving spouse and Dramatic Women’s executive director, explores widowhood in Wabi Sabi Underground. A female psychology researcher (Allison Batty) has just moved to a laboratory deep underground that she must share with a gruff and chauvinistic physicist (Allan Stewart-Oaten). While he studies subatomic particles, she is preparing to study the emotions of women recently widowed. The main dramatic crisis is the confrontation of the psychologist and her subjects with the one thing they have fled the surface of the earth to avoid: witnessing a man die. The Japanese term wabi sabi has to do with transience, and short plays do pass quickly. Anderson perhaps sets up more here than can be delivered in one act. We are introduced to two research subjects (played by Stephanie Farnum and Natasha Nicole Kaye) poised to counsel fellow widows in the outside world by phone — it would be fun if they actually got to work the phones. I’d like to see this inventive and funny piece extended.
Rod Lathim’s Unfinished Business is adapted from a journal he kept at the time of his mother’s passing and depicts a young man, David (Ryan Baumann), and his sister (Julie Anne Ruggieri) at the bedside of their dying mother. As anxiety mounts that Mom may be having trouble letting go, an invisible realm opens up, peopled by otherworldly visitors who come to help with her transition. Ann Dusenberry was the reminiscing and equivocating mother-spirit; Katie Thatcher provided laughs as Sally, a deceased partier-neighbor; Solomon Ndung’u was the evolved and dignified spirit-guide. The piece develops a broad spectrum of complementary characters and is a genuinely touching deathbed drama. The eruption of familial tensions over differing religious positions is also sensitively handled.
On the whole this production succeeded in bringing compassion, humor, and light to some of the darker facts of life. After all, the cathartic function of theater is to circumscribe a safe zone where issues of consequence may be pulled from the cave of fear and dealt with in the open air. Dramatic Women’s 2012 rebound is to be congratulated.