Steppenwolf’s “Visiting Edna” Review—Bring Your Humanity When You Call


Story of Edna, Everyhuman

Come to visit Edna (Debra Monk) at the Steppenwolf. She is our poster girl—we humans. She comes with a colostomy bag, bad sugar, sibling rivalry that endured beyond the sibling, and a new ever present—cancer.

Cancer comes in the form of an actor, Tim Hopper, who asks us with some affront early on why nobody wants to pay attention to him. He is, after all, the reason why we came a calling.

Or at least it’s the reason why Andrew, Edna’s son (Ian Barford), is there for a long stay – well, not that long, but longer than it would have been we infer.   It’s a longer visit because there is just so much business at hand, because of Edna’s final days nearing.

Neither Edna nor Andrew might realize what the big job to do is. The business, we learn, is about trying to sort that psychic junk drawer of mother and son into something resembling a neat file cabinet. Andrew is that kind of guy who will get there, we suspect, with all memories of mom and dad neatly filed into a place that doesn’t interfere with the very good life he has managed to create for himself.


Welcome Distractions

Not today though; and not during this play. Here we see him poking into the drawer that had been kept long closed for a dabble here or there, washed down with a lot of liquor and whatever distractions can be found, like using Mommy’s cane to practice his golf swing.

The best distraction is the idiot box a.k.a. the TV, played with perky counterpoint by another actor, Sally Murphy— the TV ever so eager to switch on and to help distract if not totally absorb.

How perfect this light touch is by playwright David Rabe in a heavy script that goes right to those raw places of your heart and soul.

When Murphy comes on at the play opening to announce her part as TV, warning her costume is sometimes rabbit ears and sometimes a satellite dish, you too might feel your spirits sag into “oh no” anticipation. It makes this ongoing prod by the playwright asking “Hey, too much truth for now?” all the sweeter in its smartness.


Cancer is an Incidental

Warning: Conversations overheard in that instant polling place a.k.a. the ladies room suggested that some who live with cancer are unimpressed by how little the play spoke to their real experiences and feelings.

This reviewer suggests that you not think of this as a play about cancer. Despite Hopper’s monologue, cancer is almost an incidental of the story. Like so many Steppenwolf productions, and especially those similarly acted with nuance, depth and without flaw, this distills down into a glimpse into what it is to be human. Meet your inner Edna—mortal, flawed, needy, giving, and, like the luckiest of us, deeply loved.


Now through November 6

Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm
Wednesday matinees at 2pm on October 26, and November 2.


Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre
1650 N Halsted St



($20 - $89) are available through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 and


Photos: Michael Brosilow


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