AISLE SAY San Francisco


By Lisa Kron
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Geary Theater
415 Geary St. at Mason, San Francisco / (415) 749-2228

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Playwright-performer Lisa Kron takes center stage in her autobiographical "Well." Kron, known both as a solo performer and as a founding member of the Five Lesbian Brothers theater company, focuses on her experiences growing up as one of the few whites and the only Jewish girl in a racially mixed neighborhood in Lansing, Mich. She also describes her extended stay in Henrotin Hospital in Chicago, where she was treated after various environmental and food allergies caused her to drop out of college.

Although she serves as narrator, she is joined by a five-person ensemble that includes Jayne Houdyshell as her mother, Ann. The other actors in the American Conservatory Theater production portray a variety of characters in Kron's life. The action tends to move about in time and location, and the other actors sometimes interrupt her to disagree with her memory or interpretation of an event.

One side of Allen Moyer's set is empty at first, but set pieces are moved in and out to reflect different settings. On the other side of the stage is a cluttered living room with shelves full of plastic storage bins and file boxes. There's a staircase going up. As the audience arrives, a woman, Ann, is asleep in a recliner. She wears a light blue house dress and a dark blue cardigan (costumes by Miranda Hoffman). Kron explains that her mother founded and led a neighborhood association that effectively brought people together and began to wield power at city hall. At the same time, her mother suffered from chronic exhaustion brought about by allergies.

Kron suffered similar problems as a teenager, but she managed to get well, thanks to her stay at Henrotin and her move to New York. Hence, part of the tension in the play comes from Kron's efforts to understand the difference between being ill and being well. She also wants to know why she is well and her mother isn't.

Although there seems to be some implicit criticism of her mother for not being able to overcome her physical problems despite extensive knowledge of allergies and their effects, Kron also makes her a most likeable woman, especially as portrayed by Houdyshell. She's cordial, genial, bright and perceptive, yet she also can be firm and stern when need be, as shown in her confrontations with a girl who constantly bullies young Lisa and with a neighbor who gets drunk and poses a danger to his family.

Other members of the ensemble -- Saidah Arrika Ekulona, A-men Rasheed, Joel Van Liew and Welker White -- make solid contributions with their versatility. Director Leigh Silverman, who collaborated with Kron in creating "Well" and directed the Public Theater world premiere last year, paces the action smoothly. Lighting by Christopher Akerlind and sound by Garth Hemphill also enhance this entertaining, provocative, often humorous play, which is presented without intermission.

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