When director Peter Lackner first told me he was working on an original play about Santa Barbara’s hospice house for the dying poor, I knew there was something special about the project. Sarah House itself is a compelling story-it is the nation’s only “social model” hospice, designed to create a home-like atmosphere filled with what the staff calls “extraordinary kindness.” But Lackner’s involvement suggested that there was more to this production than a staged celebration of good works in the community.
One week after our talk, I attended a run-through at Peabody School. What I saw there promises to be one of the most exciting theater events of the season. With a cast of many of Santa Barbara’s top talents-including Devin Scott, Henry Brown, Laurel Lyle, Matthew Tavianini, and Los Angeles actress Jennifer Aquino-playwright Doris Baizley has created something that is at once tremendously relevant and beautifully timeless. Baizley employs a fascinating blend of movement and discourse that expresses the heart and soul of the profoundly moving place and process that is Sarah House.
The action takes place at Sarah House within the space of 24 hours, but the cast roams in imagination, words, and gestures through a galaxy of characters and contexts, at times leaping from portraying a Hell’s Angel to embodying a Greek god in a single beat. It was wonderful to see Henry Brown working his way deeper and deeper into his character as the rehearsal went on, revealing multiple layers of hurt, pride, and hunger for love.
Later, when I spoke to her by phone, Baizley acknowledged that going through the process of her own mother’s death recently had taught her that, in many medical facilities, the approach taken is opposite to that of the holistic and compassion-centered Sarah House method. “Sarah House is a bright place, and there were times that I visited and I couldn’t tell who was a resident and who was visiting because the whole scene was so natural and home-like,” she explained. The resulting drama achieves a theatrical version of the same effect: different people, discourses, and levels of reality all meet there on equal terms in the same spirit.
One Day: Sarah House will be at Center Stage Theater March 27-29 and April 2-4. For tickets and performance times, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.