What happens when a loved one goes to the hospital for a routine medical procedure and doesn’t come out alive? That question is beautifully and thoroughly examined by Deborah Salem Smith in her play “Love Alone,” onstage now at PlayMakers Repertory Company.
When Helen (Julia Gibson) is given the news that her long-time partner, Susan, has passed away, she doesn’t know how to respond. After the shock passes, anger replaces it, and Helen, along with her daughter Clementine (Arielle Yoder), sues the hospital for negligence with the help of skilled lawyer, Mr. Rush (Derrick Ivey). Since Helen has no “real relation”—at least according to the law—to Susan, Clementine, a budding young musician, is the only one who can file the case, which she does against her better judgment. The case, however, soon becomes an obsession for Helen, one that keeps her from dealing with her grief and, in the process, distances her from those she needs the most. Helen isn’t the only one affected by the tragic event, however; the young anesthesiologist who worked on Susan, Dr. Becca Neal (Jenny Wales), also wrestles with doubt, guilt, and a crumbling marriage. Smith’s clear, authentic writing makes the story a believable study of people, how they deal with grief and loss, and how one event can impact the lives of many.
Despite the somewhat somber subject matter, Smith’s writing maintains a delicate balance of sadness and humor, and the quick, lively pace also keeps the show from feeling too melancholy. Vivienne Benesch’s tight direction has the actors making quick onstage costume and set changes, all while staying in character, and Lee Savage’s simple but functional set keeps up the fast pace by utilizing small, movable set pieces that can quickly convert the space from the hospital waiting room to the homes of Dr. Neal and Helen. Between scenes, Clementine, visible mainly in shadow until the end, performs her music, leaving nary a moment without action.
Another excellent feature of Benesch’s direction is the super-close staging; multiple, beautifully interlocking scenes take place at once, showcasing the newfound interconnectedness between the character’s lives and highlighting the surprisingly similar experiences they are enduring.
While the play does call for viewers to be plopped right into the action—the show opens with Helen and Clementine in the waiting room at the hospital, about to receive the news that will change their lives—there is plenty of time for character development, and these characters are ones that viewers will come to care deeply about, thanks not only to strong writing but also to excellent casting choices. Yoder is particularly fiery and convincing as the edgy-but-sweet Clementine, and the other actors hold their own on stage, especially Ivey, who lends a solid wisdom to his role. Even “minor” characters are portrayed with depth; Kathryn Hunter-Williams really shines in her small, multiple roles, which include a Decedent Services representative, a nurse, and a lawyer—her nurse character lends a lot of appreciated humor to the play during bleaker story points. All of the actors work well together on stage, creating some genuine interactions. The relationships between Helen and Clementine and Dr. Neal and her husband, J.P. (Patrick McHugh), respectively, are particularly well-realized.
When the end of the show does come, viewers will likely be reluctant to leave these characters behind, despite the fact that the story truly comes full-circle at its end, settling on a satisfying-yet-emotional close.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents LOVE ALONE at 7:30 p.m. March 4-7, 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 8, 2 p.m. March 9, 7:30 p.m. March 11-15, and 2 p.m. March 16 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), except $15-per-ticket (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances. There are also discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/02/19/playmakers-presents-regional-premiere-love-alone/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, and https://twitter.com/playmakersrep.
BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be a gala reception after the $55-per-person 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 1st performance.
NOTE 3: There will be an All-Access Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4th.
NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, March 5th, and Sunday, March 9th, performances.
NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 8th. (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15th, and the 2 p.m. Sunday, March 16th performances.
Love Alone (2012 play): http://www.deborahsalemsmith.com/lovealone.html (official web page).
Deborah Salem Smith (playwright): http://www.deborahsalemsmith.com/ (official website).
Vivienne Benesch (director): http://www.playmakersrep.org/ (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio), http://theater.ciweb.org/leadership/ (Chautauqua Theater Company and Conservatory), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=69799 (Internet Broadway Database).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.