Reviewed by Will Stackman
The distinction between true allergic reaction and psychosomatic response is as hard to pin down as the real nature of Lisa Kron's Obie-winning Tony-nominated quasi-autobiographical "theatrical exploration." Currently being recreated at the B.U. Theatre under the aegis of the Huntington, at first Well seems to be a one woman show starring Kron with five extra characters. The primary antagonist is her mother played by theatre veteran Mary Pat Gleason. Gleason's dowdy midwestern hausfrau is the most realistic part of the show, and ultimately takes over the evening. This is more because Kron never really identifies herself. As the main character she's surprisingly shallow. and self-absorbed. The other four actors play multiple roles as the author attempts to define wellness. For the most part their efforts seem less than relevant. In the course of two intermissionless hours moreover Kron's purpose becomes muddied. The show becomes a navel gazing exercise and ultimately inconclusive, more a commentary on itself than any larger exploration.
The process of creating a solo piece from elements of one’s own life is certainly relevant to today's theatre, but is not in itself necessarily interesting, at least for an entire evening. The show has a pastiche quality, attempting to correlate race relations in 1960s Lansing Michigan to the minutia of a residential allergy clinic in Chicago, combined with memories of growing up with a mother whose life seems limited by illness. The author challenges her own veracity in the process which leaves additional questions unanswered. In the plethora of one person show seen hereabouts recently, Well is perhaps the most self-indulgent, which indeed could be its underlying message. The question it invokes at the end is merely "Is that all?"
That's not to say that the play--for want of a better term--isn't sporadically amusing. Kron’s standup timing is impressive, regularly garnering laughs at her own expense. Leigh Silverman's direction aims for veracity, justified or not. The laughter with which Kron's performance is received seems to mainly from the female half of the audience. Tony Walton's set, done for Broadway, looms over the action but seems more decorative than appropriate, a lot of effort for limited effect. Christopher Akerlind's lighting is blatant which suits the production. Miranda Hoffman's costumes are theatrical enough so that the ensemble never seems fully real, except when the actors make the effort to bring a few scenes to life. Donetta Lavina Gray's Kay, Lisa's childhood tormentor, is especially memorable.
The conceit that all this is somehow an exploration with no clear course, except on some notecards in the author's pocket, seems both hollow and unfortunately true, the sporadic effort of a skilled performance artist to deal with personal concerns from contradictory premises. The results are maudlin at best, and probably much more compelling in Off-Broadway confines than displayed on the Huntington's vintage proscenium. The show is however in tune with the Zeitgeist which prefers "reality" TV to real drama. It probably won't be the last such effort to emerge from the self appreciation that solo performance can fall into.