“My mother is a fantastically energetic person trapped in an utterly exhausted body,” says Lisa (Allison Mickelson) near the beginning of Lisa Kron‘s play Well (which in rotating repertory with Anna Deavere Smith’s Let Me Down Easy, marks the end of Profile Theatre‘s wonderful double season). Lisa is overlooking a semi-comatose woman in a recliner–her mother Ann (Vana O’Brien), who has “allergies”.
Lisa had allergies at one time, too, but she got over them when she left home. If that doesn’t tell you something about the enigmatic state of mother-daughter relationships, nothing will. In the play, she returns to her mother’s home to conduct a “theatrical exploration of universal issues” by way of a thinly disguised critique of her mother’s illness.
It’s a hilarious “exploration”, and becomes even more so when Lisa revisits her stay at an allergy clinic during her college years. At this point, other cast members–La’Tevin Alexander, Jennifer Lanier, Michael Mendelson, and Eleanor O’Brien–step in to assume several roles in the story.
At some point, Mom hears enough and arises to set the record straight. When she finds her energy, she’s a force. And Vana O’Brien is just the woman to step into Ann’s considerable shoes.
Kron has written many excellent plays, some autobiographical. But none touched me like this one. Mother-daughter relationships are not easy and seldom equal. First one is in charge, then the other one grows up and thinks she’s got all the answers. It’s complicated. It’s touchy, and often explosive. As Lisa and Ann explore their interpretations of how things went down in the past, with help from the rest of the cast, you’ll find yourself laughing through your tears.
Well is directed by Josh Hecht, with costumes by Sarah Gahagan, scenic and lighting design by Daniel Meeker, sound design by Matt Wiens. Props master is Kyra Sanford; stage manager, Karen Hill.
The play runs through June 16 in rotating repertory with Let Me Down Easy. Hosting venue is Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St., Portland 97211.