In playwright Mickele Hogan’s unsatisfying drama, we meet the middle-aged high school English teacher Kay Kaufman, who has become romantically involved with her principal, the amiable Jerry.
Complicating this is the fact that Kay’s lawyer husband David, has been suffering for several years with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Symptoms started when he was 37, and he was diagnosed two years later. “My husband and me are in different universes.”
Through flashbacks we learn that their childless marriage was rocky before this development, but that Kay stalwartly has kept him at home as opposed to placing him in a facility. She is worn out from dealing with his mental degeneration. He no longer knows who she is, and he spends much of his time changing channels as he watches television. Their conveniently widowed, altruistic neighbor Marie cares for David for no charge while Kay is at work.
Kay and Jerry grapple with her situation and struggle with their feelings for each other as well as how to deal with David. For no compelling reason, Catherine, a student of Kay’s appears near the end. The conclusion has David miraculously regaining some of his mental capabilities and memory in time for Valentine’s Day. This turn of events thwarts her involvement with Jerry.
Ms. Hogan’s dialogue is well crafted and the structure is stageworthy, but it all comes across as a playwriting exercise rather than a full-fledged dramatic work. Medically, Hogan’s premise is extremely unlikely and adds to the off-kilter dimension. The plot points of the combination of someone in their 30’s being stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease, and then years later getting a respite from it, stretches credibility.
Director Alan Souza’s physical staging is quite adept. The three-sided small space is inventively utilized. Cast members often unobtrusively sit on chairs off to the sides of the audience until making their entrances. There are no props so there’s a good deal of skillful miming. The scenic design is only a wood dining room table and wood chairs with an industrial-style chandelier above, and a Persian carpet.
Mr. Souza’s work with the cast is less successful. The main characters are played by actors that seem too young for their roles. Some of the performances are in need of modulation considering the audience’s close proximity in such a contained playing area.
Jennifer Rau as Kay delivers a heroic performance. Resembling Sally Field with her pluckiness, Ms. Rau winningly puts her own spin on the character. Rau is on stage for almost the entire play, and has to transmit many conflicting emotions which she does beautifully.
Playing the stock, benevolent neighbor role with zest and focus is Mary Leggio, who is delightful. The charming Ms. Leggio achieves all of the necessary comic relief and dramatic force.
Chris Bolan is pleasant as Jerry. As the extraneous, nearly 18-year-old high school student, Caroline Aimetti is exaggerated.
Performing the difficult role of David, Craig D’Amico valiantly struggles. The bearded and muscular Mr. D’Amico appears too youthful, and his characterization is more autistic than Alzheimer’s. He yells a great deal which is unsettling in the small theater.
Patrick Bakalli’s lighting design expertly conveys the sense of the differing time periods and highlights the scene transitions with striking dark, bright and blue hues.
The characters are all clothed authentically in the fine costume designs by Kelly Le Vine, particularly Marie with her flowing, cream-colored sweater vest.
Mourning The Living’s pleasing opening scene is the follow up to Kay and Jerry’s first date. The writing has honesty, and Ms. Rau and Mr. Bolan have a lovely chemistry. Unfortunately, afterward the play goes off in other directions.
Mourning the Living (through April 22, 2017)
The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.lifewiseproductions.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission