mothers and daughters

Saw Lisa Kron’s* Well last night at A.C.T.

Pre-show, the stage stands magnificently bare, like a empty SoHo loft, except for a cluttered corner downstage left, her mother’s tschotschke-filled living room, with the actress playing Lisa’s mother–older, heavy, in a bathrobe and flip-flips–snoozing in a Lazy-Boy armchair.

The lights go down, and Kron comes onstage with a stack of notecards. She announces that what we are about to see will be a theatrical “exploration” of sickness and wellness; and that this play is not about her and her mother, though they will be used as examples. So it’s kind of cleverly metatheatrical, and she starts showing scenes from her life, and her mom interrupts, of course, and then–

The play falls apart. But, like, on purpose. Every layer of theatrical device begins to peel away, deliberately drop off, so delicately at first that you just think, “eh, the play’s not so great,” because you don’t realize what’s happening. And then you realize, and it’s just breathtaking. As Ben noted, it’s one of the rare times where the modern condition of analysis-paralysis gets turned inside out and transformed into a constructive creation.

No attempt was made to solve the unsolvable problems of sickness, wellness, hypochondria, race relations, the million struggles comprising a mother-daughter relationship**. Instead, they were just brought onstage in their full complexity, and left there–not forgotten, just accumulating. Just as, at the same time, set pieces began accumulating on the stage itself, abandoned, as scenes were attempted and abandoned. Well really took a lot of well-established genre expectations and well-worn thematic territory and took it to some next-level shit. Bravo.

Seeing Well came two days after watching a rehearsal of my friend Jane Chen’s Chinese Clown Show Cabaret. Jane performs the show in her clown character, and her mom actually emcees: interrupting, assisting, facilitating, translating a Spanish song into Chinese, going into the audience in the middle of one of Jane’s songs to try and get a date for her daughter, scolding, getting scolded. It’s great, just great–the clown stuff gains such a depth within the context of this daughter/immigrant mom relationship, and performed relationship.

Go see them do a workshop performance of the cabaret on Monday night at The Marsh.

*FYI: Lisa Kron originally came to some prominence in New York as a member of the Five Lesbian Brothers, one of the many awesome feminist/queer theater troupes that kicked ass at the WOW cafe in the late 1980s-early 90s (including my favorite, Split Britches.) She’s been doing a lot of solo stuff (check out excerpts of her marvelous 2.5 Minute Ride in Extreme Exposure) in the past few years, and this is her latest effort.

**Orchids: For my latest favorite film that tells a great story AND grapples beautifully with a lot of complex American anxieties AND doesn’t try to solve any of it AND you might have missed, watch Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the autobiography of Chuck Barris (Gong Show host), written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by George Clooney, and starring Sam Rockwell.

Other orchids: Doonesbury’s week-long tribute to Hunter S. Thompson.

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