Feel the terror of dementia
You don’t have to be on the AARP mailing list to feel the full frontal wallop from playwright Julie Jensen’s play WINTER . This is deep sea diving into the oceans of pain near life’s end. Feel the terror—your mind is going before your body. You want to take the matter of ending your life into your own hands, but you don’t know if tomorrow you will have the wherewithal to remember your plan to do so.
Welcome to the world of Winter’s main character-- Annis (played with utter mastery by Barbara E. Robertson). She is a one-time writer and literature professor terrorized by seeing herself losing beloved words, or knowing how to navigate stairs, or to find her way home. Prepare to fall in love with her deeply and completely, neither Robertson, Co-directors Megan Cooper and Mark Ulrich, nor playwright Jensen will have it any other way.
Annis has lost much already when the play opens, and we then share a succession of mini-strokes with her— leaving her lips drooping more, her expression gaining in blank, and her wits terrorized as self-awareness then quickly re-emerges.
Robertson gives stellar performance
She’s lost a lot, but still has so much charm to hook us in. If one hasn’t seen Robertson do this with so many other roles on Chicago stages, you would be in your rights to think that this role was written just for her. Yes, she IS that perfect.
Rich, textured script
The script, part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere, gives Robertson and her formidable co-stars so much to work with. How wonderful that this story plays out not just with any old family, but with one that has been deeply affected by a daughter/sister/mother’s suicide years before. It’s this pre-history for the family that especially helps inject the tale and the topic with the messiness it warrants.
Annis’ husband, Robeck (played by film, TV and stage talent Dan Flannery) is breaking his word on joining Annis in suicide, ostensibly so he can complete his life’s work, ironically, on so-called generosity gene studies. Their push-pull makes ample room for the playwright to inject layers of observation on marriage—any marriage—into Annis’ lines. These are both fleeting and multilayered, coming across much as Shakespearean character asides do, such that you too might find yourself longing to give the script a leisurely read after the play.
Messy family dynamics, as in real life
Annis and Robeck’s two adult sons are diametrically opposed in temperament and outlook on how to deal with their mother’s end of life wishes.
Roddy (spot on performance by Sean Cooper), the take charge elder son, declares that nothing untoward will happen on his watch! Sensitive Evan (engagingly portrayed by Steve Haggard), the younger son, who is strong on inner life but less so on courage, is just the counterpoint needed to highlight how Roddy will never be in the running for poster boy of Self-Awareness Week.
You too may come to wonder if Roddy loves him Mom or is he motored just by hubris as habit.
And then comes LD (excellently performed by Martasia Jones), the vivacious granddaughter apparently cut from the same charm cloth as her grandmother. LD lets us know Annis as the font of unconditional love she clearly was—and still is.
You may think you know how it will end, right from the start.
You’re just guessing.
Rivendell—please, a sequel
This reviewer was so hooked by this story that cravings have begun for a sequel a la Timeline’s Apple plays. Julie Jensen—isn’t there another story here of how each member of this family tries—in the bounds of their so well-defined character—to make lemonade out of the lemons that come after the curtain falls?
Winter is above all a tale well told that goes right to the heart of end of life issues with poignancy.
Note: An excerpt of this play appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through February 11.
Thursdays – Saturdays 8 PM
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
5779 N. Ridge Avenue
$28 discount tickets for students, seniors, active military and veterans
Pay-what-you-can first-come-first-served seats available for every performance.
Call the box office at 773 334 7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org