'Waverly Gallery' paints picture of family’s shared pain for deteriorating parent
Prediction: No one with a beating heart, and that includes both genders, will make it through the final scene of "The Waverly Gallery" without gulping, or more likely, tears.
We all have in our personal life boxes family members like Gladys, the aging activist who is losing her hearing, her art gallery and her mental wiring. We have relatives like her grim-faced daughter, Ellen, who loves her mother and fears a similar future. We know people like the artist Don, clueless, sincere and, in the end, harmless — if helpless — attachments to our frustrations.
And we have youth like Daniel, Gladys' grandson, who comes of emotional age learning the extent of his parents' devotion while watching the utter inability of it to stem Gladys' decline. The Studio Players production opens Friday, Jan. 15, and if it is the tragedy of a horse galloping toward the cliff, it's also the story of familial love pulling mightily to hold that horse back.
The Kenneth Lonergan play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is an autobiographical piece written from his own life. (See information box with this story.)
Paula Keenan is directing it for, actually, the second time. The Studio Players' production was two weeks from opening when it was shut down because of state COVID-19 restrictions in March. Three of the cast could not return for the rescheduled production dates at Golden Gate Community Center, so Keenan had to start over with three major characters.
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"I've been incredibly lucky with both casts," she said. And there are some new insights with the second cast: "Everybody is bringing their own feelings to it. What I really like about Ed Marin's approach to the role of Dan, the grandson, is that he found the humor in it.
"I really lucked out with him."
And there is humor: wildly funny exchanges with Gladys' persistent hearing aid problems and Dan's own bizarre romantic woes. Family dinner takes on Abbott & Costello overtones.
"There's comedy that shines through," agreed Marin, a Bonita Springs computer technologist who is in his first role for The Studio Players. But he sees the challenges every character in the story faces, including Gladys. "The whole play is about being tested."
"I love how real it is. The show isn’t afraid to get ugly. This is a harsh reality for millions of Americans," said Marilyn Hilbert, who plays Gladys, a former lawyer and activist. "She has the disease, but this play shows the strain that causes on people around her who go through it with her."
Keenan had her own experience watching an employer sink into Alzheimer's disease: "He had been so astute with numbers, and now he couldn't add a column. He was a salesman — he could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge — but he couldn't do that anymore," she recalled.
Gladys, she said, has a different kind of deterioration, one that was robbing her of communication skills: "She definitely has something to say, but she's lost the ability to say it. Sometimes her sentences, she said, "come out like word salads."
"Personally the character that resonates with me is Ellen, the daughter," Keenan continued. "She’s the one who has to be a trooper and suck it up, put on her big girl pants. She also has to figure out: If her mother has gone down this road, is she going to go down this road? So there's that underlying fear her character has. And Casey (Cobb, who plays Ellen) finds it. She's beautiful in the part."
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The entire cast is playing with power, she added: "They're leaving it all onstage."
Also onstage: a Waverly Gallery set full of art she's especially proud of.
'"All of the art in the gallery was produced by my husband," she said of her artist husband, Randy Keenan. "I stripped my walls. But he did produce three pieces specific to the play. ... I said this is what needs to be in the pictures. And he drew the pictures."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
'The Waverly Gallery'
What: The Studio Players production of Kenneth Lonergan's wrenching, and comic, depiction of a family coming to terms with its free-spirited matriarch's advancing dementia.
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15-16, 21-23 and 29-30; 3 p.m. Jan. 17, 24 and 31
Where: Joan Jenks Auditorium, Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples
To buy: thestudioplayers.org or 239-398-9192
Something else: Distance protocols have been put in place for seating; masks are required; hand sanitizer will be available