San Diego, CA---The night I went to see playwright Laura Jacqmin’s Milvotchkee, Visconsin” downtown at the 10th Avenue Theatre that Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company occupies, the woman sitting next to me shared that her friend wanted her to tell her about the play… “if she could remember it”. We both chuckled, smug seniors that we appeared to be, as if we were immune from anything that happened to Molly (Linda Libby) in Jacqmin's play might (God Forbid) happen to us.
Jacqmin’s play is about dementia. It isn’t reserved for seniors alone, nor is it exclusive to one sex, nor one ethnicity, nor race. Molly is in her 50’s/60’s. For 30 years she was a docent at Frank Smith’s Concrete Park in Phillips, Wisconsin. “There’s nobody in the world who knows as much about this place as I do. Nobody”.
Now she carries a notebook with her so she can remember all the points of interest anyone attending her tour needs to know. “If I hadn’t written it down--I couldn’t tell you what I was supposed to be saying right now. I couldn’t tell you what I was supposed to be doing. I couldn’t tell you anything”.
Linda Libby, who has played everything from the outspoken and domineering Mama Rose in Ion’s production of “Gypsy” to the eccentric Edith Bouvier Beale in “Grey Gardens” to her one woman tour de force performance (twice) in Franz Xavier Kroetz’ “Request Performance” where she speaks nary a word, takes us on Molly’s complex journey from moments of lucidness to moments of absolute darkness. It’s stunning, mind boggling and frightening all wrapped into one; and then some.
When my friend’s husband was in he throws of his decline, he always wore a smile and when you spoke he locked in and looked so engaged that if you hadn’t a clue, you would think, “Wow, he’s really paying attention”.
There are times when Libby’s Molly has that same look, but there is something in her eyes that say different, almost vacant at times. She caries on whole conversations with her deceased husband Richard (David Poirer). She confesses that her tours have been slipping because like the creator of the park, Frank Smith, she too was hit by lightning. “And subsequently, I’ve developed this hole in my head.” “I’ve been slipping…”
She fights off any attempts by her adult children, (Olivia Espinoza and Greg Watanabe), who want her institutionalized and in the final analysis, doesn’t seem to have a clue where she is. The Country Doctor (Jacob Bruce) takes her through and entire double talk session every time he comes into the picture. “The hole might be an astonishingly large hole, Mollywog.”
Being in the doctors office, even when one HAS all senses, is mind boggling anyway. Add some doctor talk to the equation and what Molly thought she heard, was probably more on target than we would like to imagine. “I’m your doctor, I’m never wrong.”
Given the circumstances, however we will never know. Playwright Jacqmin uses this device to try to put us in Molly’s head. It’s a perfect solution to bring the absurdities to the fore. She takes a joy ride in the mouth of a whale, meets up with a snake oil salesman, (Watanabe) the deceased Fred Smith, designer of the park, who claims to be building new statues of the African Elephant, the African Gazelle, and African warriors and has conversations with the hole in her head.
She finds herself in a ‘memory group (Maggie Carney is first-rate as she takes on a series of women’s roles), inside Fred Smith’s Muskie sculpture being pulled by a team of horses, being restrained in a hospital bed…in a rehab, nursing home, and being bullied by her son and daughter who ultimately sell her house leaving her to ask, “where will I go?”
Billed as a ‘comedy about tragedy’, this reviewer had to look hard and long to find the humor surrounding the circumstances. I did however find the irony that bordered on some of funnier more absurd scenes and circumstances that Molly’s mind stoically wandered into. Seeing the world through her eyes is just as heartbreaking as it is challenging, as it is eye opening.
The piece runs about 90 minutes and is directed by Robert Barry Fleming (in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association of San Doego) who moves the action along at a reasonably fast clip, but never shortchanging the deep emotional pull or the levity factor. He too is coming from a place of ‘having been there’ being the primary caregiver to his mother who suffers from dementia.
David Poirier, recently out of retirement from his Vermont hometown, is a welcome addition to our San Diego theatre scene. No pun intended but he’s just what the doctor ordered for this part. The remaining support cast members who play several parts are excellent.
Set designer David F. Weiner’s set with assist from Curtis Green of the Concrete Park, the outdoor museum (a wonderful backdrop for Molly’s journey) boasting over 230 embellished concrete sculptures and ‘other objects’ built by Smith, a retired lumberjack is juxtaposed against Molly’s life’s journey. It is a perfect backdrop combining finished and unfinished works.
Jason Bieber’s lighting design and Jeannie Galioto’s costume designs complete the picture Molly is unable to. Joe Huppert’s original music and sound design set the mood throughout.
“And so there’s one last tour I’d like to give. It’s a tour of me”:
This is my son, who comes over most weeks and tells me stories. I think he keeps telling me variations on one in particular, but I love it every time.
“This is me on Tuesdays, sometimes, or anytime I would like to feel a little more order in the world and in myself.”
“This is me and my daughter, sitting together quietly, looking out the window and knowing that it is enough sometimes.”
This is me, in moments, in many moments, continuing, with everything in the same space. This is me, existing and living and not always up but not always down and everything going on for quite a long time.
One thing at a time.
One moment in a mix of moments.
People need this.
People need this.
And it is all they really need.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through June 29th
Organization: Mo’Olelo Performing Arts Company
Production Type: Drama
Where: 930 10th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$32.00
Venue: 10th Ave. Theatre