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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 8, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 6
A good 'Egg' - New company scores with a poignant play about parenting
Arts & Entertainment
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A good 'Egg' - New company scores with a poignant play about parenting

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG
THALIA'S UMBRELLA
(at ACT Theatre)
Through February 17


Peter Nichols wrote a play about raising a severely disabled child. The focus is on being parents to such a child and the day-in and day-out decisions that it comes with. A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is being mounted by a new professional play company, Thalia's Umbrella, through ACT Theatre's Central Heating Lab. CHL partners with all kinds of production companies and brings a variety of programming to its various stages. The founders of Thalia's Umbrella - lead actor Terry Edward Moore and director Daniel Wilson - say they'll produce plays 'that dance on the line between comedy and tragedy.' This is a good start.

Brian and Sheila use lots of humor, sometimes inappropriate and even gross, to lighten their constant burden. They'd rather laugh than cry about their lot, as they describe to the audience how they ended up with a child who cannot move, speak, or understand. They've sustained themselves for ten years this way, somewhat successfully keeping their child at home and keeping their marriage together. But today, the strain is showing more than usual and Brian's jokes suddenly seem more serious than funny.

The play was acclaimed in Britain when it came out in the late '60s. It's presented as a period piece, where telephoning is done somewhere down the block from where you live, and there are few technological advances visible. Nichols apparently wrote from personal family experience, though not about his own child.

Nichols has the play start with an irascible Brian, the schoolmaster, dealing with the audience as fractious children at the end of a long day. He's outrageous, bombastic, abusive, and exasperated, and he tries to be funny and fails. That is the characterization Moore sticks with throughout the play, causing us to distance ourselves from identifying with him in his predicament. It's not clear if that is the intent of the playwright, or the decision of the director and actor in this production.

Leslie Law, on the other hand, plays Sheila as heroic, selfless, dedicated, seductive to her husband, and tolerant of his behaviors. She also fully enters into their game of humorous deflection as a survival tool. Law is a revelation in this role and a joy to watch.

Also a joy are the supporting cast members, Brandon Whitehead and Carol Roscoe, a thespian couple who are trying to support Sheila while making vile comments about her child when they're alone; Susan Corzatte as Brian's mother, who wishes he'd come home and keep her company, while blaming Sheila for the situation of her grandchild; and a wonderful young girl, Aidyn Stevens, who has the difficult job of playing an unhearing, unseeing child.

It's heartbreaking humor, as Sheila and Brian unflinchingly refer to their child as a vegetable, and talk about what could have been. Brian gets darker and darker until he's willing to do the unthinkable. The play forces one to put him- or herself in their place. What would you do?

For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call (206) 292-7676.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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