Written by Lisa Kron
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Papp Public/Martinson / 425 Lafayette Street / (212) 239-6200

Reviewed by David Spencer

At first, "Well" seems as if it’s going to be a little comedy-drama, sort-of, about how Lisa Kron, performance artist, left an upbringing and childhood that did not promote physical and spiritual wellness, and by finding her place and purpose in life, achieved healthful stability. Ms. Kron, author-narrator-portrayer of herself, claims to be using the events of her life not as fodder for bio-drama, but merely as a metaphorical example with a more universal application.

On the other hand, her mother (Jayne Houdyshell), overweight, achy, slow-moving and unwell, is sitting right there in her living room recliner and it’s hard to make a symbol out of a living being who interrupts your talk to clarify points and herself addresses the audience.

Furthermore, it’s not as if Mom was ever some repressive, overbearing nightmare out of a psychological case history. No, Ms. Kron’s mom was a liberal political activist who only reveled in the self-discovery of her daughter. Even the other actors, hired to help Ms. Kron illustrate her point, by playing other characters in her life (Kenajuan Bentley, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Joel Van Liew and Welker White), find themselves charmed and fascinated by the old girl, whose very presence renders a the intended simplistic analogy terribly complicated and too full of contradictions to sort out neatly.

Even as we watch Ms. Kron’s frustration–in this piece which the famed monologist has glibly described as a solo show with other people–we are aware of the Pirandellian "outer reality" which is that she is lampooning her own stated intent, and making a larger point.

For that state of wellness is, of course, not achieved by running away from your past, or trying to put people in a box. Because real people never fit in a box–especially the people you care about, who in turn care about you. Wellness is not achieved by "getting over" the past, or at least not entirely. It is, rather, achieved by finally accepting that there are some things you will never get over…and making peace with the ambivalence.

It’s an enormous and complex point to make, and that Ms. Kron makes it in so entertaining, heartfelt and deceptively free-wheeling a fashion is an enormous and complex achievement. Also a courageous one, as she gradually allows her character–the Lisa Kron of the script–to emerge as highly flawed and just as selectively blind as any of us.

As a seasoned solo artist, it goes without saying, she plays herself brilliantly…but she has been unafraid to surround herself with performers of equal distinctiveness and charisma, none quite so arresting as the one playing mom herself. Looking every bit the tired, overweight, unpretty matron in a muu muu…almost depressingly real…Jayne Houdyshell emerges from that cocoon with a personality and love of life and people that eventually becomes so vigorous as to deny the shell (no name-pun intended) hiding it. And all acting hands have been ably and deftly abetted by director Leigh Silverman.

Though it covers different subject matter, "Well" is very much in the vein of "Wit" in terms of being a theatricalized yet deeply passionate celebration of life when life’s most confounding aspects must be confronted head on. And like "Wit" it has the same capacity to be transforming, inspirational and maybe even a little bit cleansing. And on that note…

Lisa Kron may not have meant to, but she’s written a performance piece for herself that stands on its own as a play and can survive on its own terms without her actually in it. Oh, I suppose those future audiences may take a few moments to adjust to the notion of Lisa Kron not being played by Lisa Kron…but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time such a phenomenon occurred…and the play is so engaging, so heartfelt that if performed diligently, those moments will be mere moments, before the throb of the text’s beating heart takes over. "Well", I think, will be with us in many venues, and for a long time.

And what, for a play such as this, could be more "well" than that…?

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