Lillian is a one-person show about a woman in her forties courted by a man in his twenties. It’s an unhurried, meandering tale of love and loss that depends on the character’s likeability and the actor portraying her to capture audiences.
Nancy Travis, who plays the title character, accomplishes this feat. Lillian is an impressive monologue that looks at one woman’s journey through the highs of romance and the lows of relationship reality. Presented by Ensemble Theatre Company and directed by Jonathan Fox, Lillian is a pleasant anecdote produced in an attractive manner.
The role of Lillian was originally played by the author, David Cale. This casting fact raises questions and thoughts about gender and its theatrical representation. How does this role differ depending on the gender of the actor? Why did Ensemble choose to produce this play with gender-swapped casting? Lillian, as written, features a somewhat irreverent person who leads a life less ordinary. This female Lillian delivers a quirky but grounded character that weathers wounding with resilience. Her romance with a man 15 years her junior is a relatable fantasy regardless of the characters’ genders. The story, however, lacks extremes; despite good fortune, the character never reaches elation, and despite loss, the character never reaches the depths of being. It’s an abridged biography spoken by someone looking back rather than an in-the-moment statement told while grieving or triumphing.
The physical production of Lillian is minimal but appropriate. The setup on stage focuses on the actress while giving metaphorical context, and the lights and accompanying music offer a sense of physical and emotional movement. Appreciation to the designers of lighting (Jared A. Sayeg) and sound (Randall Robert Tico)!