Life is funny. Life is tragic.
The fact that both of these statements can be true simultaneously is what makes a smart, biting black comedy like A Day in the Death of Joe Egg work so well.
A British couple’s life is changed when their daughter is born severely mentally handicapped – unable to communicate and unable to move apart from the occasional uncontrollable spasm. That’s the tragic part.
This doesn’t prevent the couple, Brian and Sheila, from having “conversations” with their daughter, or imbuing her with a personality: likes, dislikes, wants, etc. They joke with her endlessly, and, to them, she jokes right back. That’s the funny part. It would be sad if you spent too much time thinking about it, but Peter Nichols’s rapid-fire script allows very little time for deep contemplation on the part of the audience – except for precisely where he wants it.
The subject matter of the play is at times difficult, and it is a very brave production for any theatre company to mount.
Metropolitan State College of Denver accepted the challenge, and their Student Stage Ensemble (directed, designed, built, and performed entirely by students) met that challenge brilliantly.
Colin Ahern as Brian (“Bri”) commands the stage with the presence of Cyrano or Petruchio, but deftly gives us glimpses into the fact that Bri is a father who has never heard his daughter call him “Daddy.”
Elizabeth Edwards is thoroughly convincing as Sheila, the much put-upon mother who gleefully joins in her husband’s wise-cracking, but also hopes, beyond any available evidence, that her little girl will smile at her someday. Edwards’s performance reminded me of the mothers in the Autism Everyday video that I saw for the first time only a few days ago: hope, humor, and despair, mixed with emotional and physical exhaustion.
Jessica Evans is so convincing as the spastic daughter that it is somewhat jarring to see her stand and take a bow at the curtain call.
Sarah Crabtree, Jose Zuniga, and Nancy S. Evans round out the talented ensemble with broad (yet controlled) characterizations and precise comic timing. (On a side note, Zuniga played the scene-stealing Goat, and Evans the irascible and scheming Salome in last year’s Robber Bridegroom, which I raved about so extensively back when this blog was still just an e-mail list.)
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is funny, dark, intelligent, and as challenging for its audience as for its performers. In short, it’s good quality local theatre, and you all know how I feel about that.
Joe Egg (follow the link; scroll down) runs through April 29th at the King Center on the Auraria Campus.
Also running through April 29th is Performance Now’s Gypsy at the Lakewood Cultural Center.
Wrapping up one day earlier on April 28th, are Working - A Musical and The Elephant Man, running in rep over at the Tramway Theatre.
I highly recommend all of these shows. Of course I do. I wouldn’t mention them otherwise.
Don’t forget to get your birthday cards in the mail to Shane Bernier. He turns 8 on May 30th, but you can start sending cards now.
Which brings me to a comment that someone made to me yesterday. “What’s the point?”
That’s a valid question. Guinness Records won’t acknowledge the category anymore. (Wankers.) We’re not ending world hunger. We’re not even curing cancer. All I know is that there’s a little guy in Canada that loves getting cards so much that he wants to break the record (acknowledged or not, wankers) for most birthday cards received.
Now, I don’t know much about leukemia. I know it doesn’t feel very good. I know that you have to be kept in a pretty sterile indoor environment. I know that chemicals and radiation (which also don’t make you feel very good) are part of the therapy. I know that very, very painful transplant surgery is sometimes required. I also know that, when I was 7-years-old, I was climbing trees, falling off my bike, jumping over ditches, playing with my friends, and having more fun than I could have ever realized at the time.
You know what? If you don’t want to send this kid a birthday card, don’t send him a birthday card. Don’t put yourself out.