THEATER REVIEW: “Well” at Ensemble Theatre by Roy Berko

Through Sun 10/22

Lisa Kron, who is best known for writing the lyrics and book to the musical Fun Home, for which she won both the Tony Award for Best Original Score and for Best Book for a Musical, says of her play, Well, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre as the opening show in its 38th consecutive season, “It is a theatrical exploration? That is … it’s a very hard play to describe.”

Yes, the script is hard to classify. Comedy? Drama? Biography? It is all of these.

Well is ostensibly an investigation of relationships between mothers and daughters, and the meaning of the word, “wellness,” but it is so much more. The creative, captivating, inventive journey is based on the author’s real relationship with her mother Ann in the Lansing, Michigan neighborhood in which she grew up with her chronically unwell, hypochondriac, social activist parent.

Kron says that she “felt like an outsider” even in her own family because she, her parents and her brother David were the only Jews. And one of the few white families in the neighborhood, as her non-Jewish born mother insisted on living in an integrated environment.

As the play unfolds, Lisa tries to explain her past, but Ann keeps correcting the narrative and other characters talk with Ann about her life and themselves.

Part of the time Lisa is speaking to the audience in intense, often humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching monologues. Part of the time she is speaking to her mother. In other instances, she interacts with neighbors, hospital personnel and members of the cast who break out of character to express their opinions about Lisa, Ann, both the characters and the actors who are portraying the duo, as well as themselves. The exposition follows no time line, jumping easily back and forth.

Yes, definitely not the typical modality of a play.

All in all, though it sounds confusing, the concept and the production are brilliant and easy to follow.

Director Celeste Cosentino has a clear understanding of Kron’s intention and has been blessed with a superlative cast who make the entire production seem like a first-time conversational experience. No acting here. Just real people, speaking well-written, believable lines.

It is hard to conceive that Lara Mielcarek is not Lisa Kron. She perfectly inhabits the role. Incidentally, in the New York production of Well, the author played herself. Laura Starnik is Mielcarek’s equal as Kron’s mother. Old and addlepated one minute, charming and funny the next, Starnik is Ann-perfect.

The rest of the cast — April Needham, Maya Jones, Brian Kenneth Armour and Craig Joseph — playing various roles of people in Lisa’s life, as well as themselves, are all up to the task. Bryanna Bauman’s lighting design aids in assisting the audience to adjust to time lines and the “acted” versus the “live” scenes.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Well is one of those special scripts and performances that showcases the message of what theater is all about. It’s a must see experience.

Well runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays @ 2pm through Sun 10/22. (there is no performance on Sat 10/7 and an Industry Night on Mon 10/9.) For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to ensemble-theatre.org.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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