Posted 6/5/12 – By Fran Syverson
It’s rare that we see a drama from, in effect, inside one person’s head. But that’s the case with the aptly titled Woman in Mind now running at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. Through Susan’s perspective, we meet her family—or, rather, her families. For one is real, and the other is the figment of her imagination as she awakens from an accidental fall in her garden. Susan’s mental state is precarious and serious, but her hallucinatory ventures provide waves of laughter with Susan, not at her.
Bill, her oafish doctor, is at her side in her garden and has called an ambulance. Susan resists, assuring him that her family can care for her. Her loving husband Andy (Rees Pugh) appears, as do her devoted daughter Lucy (Victoria Mayers) and her feisty younger brother Tony (Angus McEwan.) She basks in their attentions.
But reality intervenes, and soon we meet her real family. What a contrast! We learn that the tenderness Susan craves has long been denied by her pastor husband Gerald. He’s been busy for a decade or so compiling a 60-page parish history. David Hadinger is impressive as the stoic spouse who doesn’t see any problem in their sleep-in-two-beds relationship. Nor does he get it that his widowed sister Muriel has long ago worn out her welcome in their home. That, despite the fact that even he can’t stand Muriel’s artless cooking. Grey’s Tea as herbs in an omelet—imagine! Anne Etue plays Muriel delightfully as a frumpy, self-satisfied perennial live-in.
Sharon Sharth is an amazing Susan, her emotions ranging widely from gaiety to despair. Gaiety–in her fantasy world, where she lives on an estate with a pool, tennis courts and a magnificent vista. Where she helps her charming daughter Lucy plan for her wedding, where she and her brother enjoy each other, and her husband dotes on her. Despair—as she confronts her discontent – an inattentive husband, a distanced son Rick (Nathan Hertz) who doesn’t speak to them on his rare visits and didn’t bother to mention that he has a wife, and her withering garden. As the distinctions between her two “realities” begin to blur, her confusion mounts.
We can see both of Susan’s worlds, but not so her doctor. Dan Wingard as Bill is the one person who is in both worlds. He fidgets a lot as he tries to calm Susan, often saying he “sees” what she sees, meanwhile nervously awaiting that ambulance.
So—let’s face it. Susan was long overdue for a mid-life crisis, and the garden rake’s clunk on her head has precipitated it. Through playwright Alan
Ayckbourn’s deft humor melded with darker undertones in Woman in Mind, we journey with Susan on her descent into madness. The finale is a stunner.
In his first directorial role at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, Christian Lebano brings a sensitive touch to Woman in Mind, with both its humor and its pathos. Recently Lebano starred here in Our Town and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Susan’s garden, stretching its verdant lawn the breadth of the stage, is breath-taking. As befits an English garden, it has a small pond, an ivy-twined trellis, and stonework. Matthew G. Hill designed the set and, with Stephen Weston, Ward Calaway and Lebano, constructed it. Dramatic lighting designed by Sammy Ross shifts the mood between her parallel worlds.
Estelle Campbell is producing director. Associate producers include Brian Dolan, Lindsay Faye, Allen Golden, Liz Stoltz and Lebano. Kristen Weber is the stage manager and light operator. Daniel Armas is assistant stage manager and properties designer. Credit Liz Nankin for costume design, Barry Schwam for sound design, and John Dmitri as sound operator.
Anne Marie Atwan is properties mistress. Peter Simpson Cook designed the poster art, and Calaway did the program design and layout. Suse Sternkopk did the production photography. Philip Sokoloff is publicist.
Woman in Mind will continue at the Sierra Madre Playhouse Fridays and Saturdays through July 7. Evening curtain times are 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Admission is $25 for adults, $22 for seniors (65+) and students (13-17), and $15 for children 12 and under.
The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Ample free parking is available behind the theater and in other city lots. Restaurants on Baldwin Avenue and Sierra Madre Boulevard offer pre-theater dining. For ticket reservations or information, phone (626) 355-4318, or visit the website, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org for online ticketing.