Diversionary Theatre’s Lisa Kron double feature must close this Sunday (March 19). Though written eight years apart (2.5 Minute Ride premiered in 1996, Well in 2004), the pieces have a common theme: how to portray complex people on a stage? What to include? Leave out? A hundred years ago, writers believed you could “get the whole person on the page.” Is a unified portrait still possible?
Kron’s subjects are her parents. In Well, her mother Ann has been a shut-in for decades. Although suffering an undiagnosable ailment, she somehow managed to integrate a community in Lansing, Michigan. She has no physical energy, but, says Kron, enough spiritual energy to fill a place of worship.
Samantha Ginn plays Kron playing herself, though Kron denies she’s a character. So just who is talking? Ginn, the actor, sure, but is she, or is she not, playing the author? Or is Ginn playing herself playing the author? Kron uses an often misunderstood technique. She deconstructs herself into different people: Ginn, Lisa the character, and maybe even the actual Lisa. Deconstruction doesn’t tear something down; it thickens and destabilizes. At times, Ginn, Kron the person, and Kron/Ginn the actors could be talking at once.
It’s like looking at that famous drawing of a rabbit and a duck. Seen one way it’s the former, another, the latter. But both are always there.
Kron wants a unified story in a comfy package. But too many contradictions intrude. Her mother insists the presentation (on tidy index cards) is wrong. In effect, Well de-centers the story. It allows loose ends to hang out and builds an intricate portrait of her courageous mother through the contradictions.
In 2.5 Minute Ride Kron characterizes her father. In many ways 75-year-old Walter’s the opposite of Ann. He’s more soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes. In 1935 he was the only member of his Jewish family to escape from a pogrom in Germany. He was 15. After WWII he was an Army interrogator of suspected Nazis. He’s so humble he’ll only talk about these things if asked.
Kron uses a similar rabbit/duck technique in 2.5. She gives a slide show of two events: the family’s annual madcap vacation to the Cedar Point Amusement Park, “the roller coaster capital of the world,” and a trip she took to Auschwitz with her father. The former is crazy, the latter insane. As they bounce off each other, the extremes increase, like a tennis match between Groucho Marx and the Shadow of Death.
For years, Shana Wride has been like Kron’s father. An always capable, always giving ensemble actor, she has never tried to stand out. As Kron giving the slide show — no slides, just a blank rectangle of light — Wride takes center stage with a remarkable performance, now funhouse, now tragic, easily among the year’s finest thus far.
Playing through Sunday, March 19
(Well at 2:00 p.m.; 2.5 Minute Ride at 7:00 p.m.)