Monday, March 03, 2008

Colder Than Here

Dobama’s ‘COLDER THAN HERE’--a must see fun, thought provoking tour-de-force!

Laura Wade, the author of ‘COLDER THAN HERE’ now in production by Dobama Theatre, is quite unusual. Between February, 2005 and March 2006 she had three plays in production in London. She was the winner of the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright of 2006 and the recipient of Pearson Playwrights Best Play Award. All this, and she has only been writing full-time for less than three years.

‘COLDER THAN HERE’ is the story of Myra, a mother in her mid-50's suffering from advanced secondary bone cancer. Since she only has about six months to live, she sets about planning her funeral with the same energy one might expend on organizing the perfect wedding. She picks out and assembles the cardboard coffin, which she decorates with clouds and stars, even deciding that she wants to be placed in the box on her side, because that’s the way she sleeps. She illustrates her plans in a Power Point computer presentation so her family can follow the directions.

In between trips to scout out prospective eternal resting places, Myra tries to build up the self-esteem of youngest daughter Jenna, who seems to have settled for unhealthy romantic relationships. As Myra says, "While I'm still here, I can help. After I kick it, you're on your own." She also confronts her own marital problems, highlighted by years of separate bedrooms, and tries to mend the emotional distance between family members.

Is she bizarre, a woman lost in sorrow? Not so, according to playwright Wade who believes that “Grief needs to be occupied, and organizing the funeral is one way of doing that.” Her research for the play brought her into contact with the Natural Death Movement, which aims to rescue funerals from the high-cost funeral directors and gives people control over their own dead bodies. It's an approach Wade thinks we would do well to follow. (Incidentally, this is a growing trend in England, where this play is set.)

Sounds like a downer. It’s not. There is humor, tenderness and even beauty. Most of all, there is reality. I defy anyone in the audience not to be thinking about their own approach to death and the rituals which surround it.

Dobama’s production, as has been the case so often, is right on target. Artistic Director Joyce Casey has again chosen a script of merit and turned over the forging of it to director Joel Hammer, who paces the production well, creates all the correct moods and has molded the cast into a quality team.

Anne McEvoy takes on the difficult task of Myra. She does an outstanding job of walking the fine line between humor and drama. This is a masterful performance.

We laugh and are amazed at Jenna, the self-obsessed daughter. In the role, Heather Lea Anderson Boll, the only equity member of the cast, effectively traverses the tight rope between being “ditzy,” “confused” and “pathetic.” It would be so easy to go overboard with the characterization, but Boll doesn’t.

Liz Conway, is right on target as Harriet, the sensible daughter.

Robert Hawkes gives a stellar performance as, Alec, Myra’s husband, the typical English male…self contained, distant and practical.

Ben Needham’s multi-scene set works well, as does Michael Boll’s lighting design and Richard Ingraham’s sound.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Bravo to Dobama for continuing it’s string of outstanding productions. ‘COLDER THAN HERE’ is a must see presentation that deserves community support.