Echo Theatre doing Well: not so much

Well! Well? Well, here’s how one critic feels about Lisa Kron’s Well, in performance at the Bath House Cultural Center with Echo Theatre through September 25.

Lisa Kron's WELL, produced by Echo Theatre

Why is unapologetic, unrepentant, navel-gazing so trendy among playwrights? It’s their answer to reality TV? Might compete with You Tube? I haven’t a clue. Yes, I realize [title of show], that ultimate navel-gazer, made it to Broadway.  As a masochistic reviewer, I saw both recent Dallas regional incarnations of said sausage maker, both, one of which worked fine. It’s just not particularly simulating, memorable theatre. No one will mount these shows in ten years, or five? Please, Muses, hear my exhortation….

Good theatre, any era, any genre, is built upon transformation, conflict and resolution, reversal of fortune, a hero (or heroine’s) journey. Not upon some self-indulgent twit “pretending” she’s NOT writing a confessional, disjointed, dream-world vignette about her lousy relationship with her mother, when in fact, that’s exactly what she IS doing. Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn…I might if the playwright told her story through dramatic metaphor and characterization. Instead, she tells the tale in first person clumps, cutesy-like.

I love much about Echo Theatre. They take chances with quirky, challenging plays, mostly; they aren’t afraid to mount women playwrights’ work beyond ART and How I Learned To Drive. (Yasmina Reza and Paula Vogel are to play production what Mary Cassatt is to art museums: poster babes for affirmative action). They hire regional creative stage designer Jeffrey Schmidt and turn him loose to try to reconfigure the audience/ performance relationship at the cozy (96 seats), limited view (flanking support columns) Bath House Cultural Center black box theatre.  Sometimes it works really well and doesn’t torture the audience. In this case, according to play director Pam Myers-Morgan, he built a tennis court arrangement with audience seated on either side of a central “thrust” arena. Mom’s living room lair is on one end of the court, and Lisa and her supporting characters emerge from and retreat behind curtains on the other end, with or without props and set pieces. “Skirmishes” occur in the middle playing space. Neat and simple, given the time dedicated in this play to dragging on and off beds for three line scenes and feigned actor confusion. I’m glad Schmidt recycles.

Director Morgan has engaged superior actors, each appropriate in age, delivery and interpretive skills to the characters they play. Can’t do much better than Kristin McCollum and Sylvia Luedtke playing daughter Lisa and mom Anne, respectively, even if they aren’t credited in the program.

Kristin McCollum, Sylvia Luedtke as daughter & mom

Neely Jonea’ as a childhood bully and Molly Milligan as Lisa’s “complicated” hospital roommate have memorable moments. David Jeremiah and Jordan Willis mostly add color and noise to the scene-lets and drag around most of the set furniture.

What else can I say? This play drags down everybody involved, makes the characters claw their way through excessive fountains of verbalized introspection like oozing wallpaper paste. A play for people in therapy over mother issues? It would make a better short film, shot and edited in less than thirty minutes. I can only imagine what the likes of Wendy Wasserstein, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker would say about it….

Dear ladies of Echo: I don’t want to learn how the sausage is made. Transport me to Jakarta, or NIBROC, and back.

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