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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Health Issues

Theater Reviews

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   The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's opens its 34th season with Well, a satisfyingly hilarious new play by performance artist and playwright Lisa Kron. Using a play within a play format with an original twist, the incomparably accomplished Angela Iannone plays the author herself in a series of supposedly non-autobiographical vignettes based on true experiences and designed to serve as a "theatrical exploration of socially significant issues of universal significance"-or so Lisa tells us.

  She brings her mother on board to watch the performance and make sure that these "non-autobiographical" stories are accurate, but mother keeps interrupting the play with her own personal anecdotes. Finally Lisa stops the play and comes stage center to explain matters to us, the audience.

  It's soon apparent that social issues such as racial integration and physical wellness are subtle smoke screens for basic miscommunications between mother and daughter. Mother sees her many imagined allergies as a reason for her chronic fatigue, while Lisa goes through the hilarious bowel-cleansing rigors of an allergy clinic. She comes to realize that apathy can be a powerful tool in her mother's hands with allergy as a metaphor for avoidance reaction.

  The play remains buoyant, hilarious and kind-spirited despite its avant-garde format. The dialogue never seems didactic or loses its comic beat even as it hints at profound truths.

  What a pleasure to watch the equally buoyant, multi-talented Iannone bring her irrepressible comedic gifts to this difficult play on words. She keeps the elaborate plot structure on even keel, never allowing Lisa's anger to lose its inherent humor. Iannone is one of those artists whose talents always seem a matter of fait accompli, the confidence of the seasoned professional. She is met tit for tat by veteran actress Ruth Schudson's terrific underplaying of the mother. If these two set the play in motion with their contrasting styles, credit must also be given to director Laura Gordon, herself a noted Rep performer.

  Well runs through Aug. 24 at Broadway Theatre Center.