archive
links
essays

Independence

Tracing the effects of parental behaviors on children is a tricky proposition, but playwright Lee Blessing has shown an uncanny ability to do so without belaboring imprinting patterns and by showing due respect for individuation.

Photo of (L to R) Courtney Hayes as Sherry, Rebecca Sage as Kess, Jennifer Ann Forsyth as Jo, and Terry Ann Waits as Evelyn
(L to R) Courtney Hayes as Sherry,
Rebecca Sage as Kess,
Jennifer Ann Forsyth as Jo,
and Terry Ann Waits as Evelyn
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
PThis is no more evident than in Germinal Stage Denver's current production of his 1984 examination of ten days in the life of an Independence, Iowa mother and her three daughters. The setting quickly unfolds as the oldest daughter, Kess, a university professor in Minneapolis, has returned home following a desperate call from middle daughter Jo, who says their mother has nearly killed her in a fit of anger.

Kess, it seems, has become a surrogate mom for the brood, ever since she committed her biological mother, Evelyn, to a psychiatric hospital a few years back, for a three-month stay. But she has taken on more than she has bargained for, as she learns that Jo, a lifelong virgin, is now pregnant by a local Lothario, and that their youngest sister, Sherry, about to graduate high school, has more sexual experience than the rest of them combined.

Beneath a couple of landscapes and a still life, and behind a pair of front room windows, director Ed Baierlein explores the family's intricate interior terrain in his usual well-calibrated manner, by cross-hatching the emotional peaks and measuring out thoughtful silences and telling glances.

Photo of Rebecca Sage as Kess and Courtney Hayes as Sherry
Rebecca Sage as Kess and
Courtney Hayes as Sherry
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Poised and impeccably put-together, Rebecca Sages' Kess initially contemplates her familial battleground with professorial equanimity, as if she were explicating an obscure literary work for her students. Later, Sage allows Kess' cracks to appear as she is once-again being drawn toward her mother's borderline reality.

At the center of the story's emotional uneasiness is Evelyn, who, we later discover, is not the first in her matriarchal line to raise daughters by herself. Alternately domineering and deluded, we can see in Terry Ann Waits' portrayal the seeds of her offspring's desperation and despair.

Photo of Jennifer Ann Forsyth as Jo and Terry Ann Waits as Evelyn
Jennifer Ann Forsyth as Jo
and Terry Ann Waits as Evelyn
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Outside of anyone's moral influence and with one foot out the door, youngest daughter Sherry would be a handful for even the most stable and even-tempered mother, but in this family she appears unsalvageable. Courtney Hayes throws herself into this role like a bat out of hell, dive-bombing her sisters and mother with gleeful impetuousness; yet, when the tables turn, Hayes' Sherry is equally compelling as the discarded victim.

Caught in the psychological cross-fire of all these strong wills, middle child Jo quakes in co-dependency, letting her mother's needs come before her own. With a quixotic blend of fragility and resilience, Jennifer Ann Forsyth creates ringing tension in Jo, as she struggles to find her way to safe ground.

Despite the extremes with which the Blessing has infused the play, this is no melodrama, as playwright so ably proves with a surrealistic scene in which the women attempt to carry out a family counselor's suggestion—that everyone try to say something nice to one another. In short order, Blessing convinces us that we'd rather they come clean with their feelings than be subjected to this mass-produced plastic spirituality.

As we leave these four women, each on the verge of a life vastly different than they've known, we marvel at Blessing's deft hand at fully exploring the notion of independence as well as director Baierlein's ability to bring this vision to fruition.

Germinal Stage Denver's production of Independence runs through July 10th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows

 

Current Reviews | Home | Webmaster