Friday, October 17, 2014

Distance, a new play by Jerre Dye (10/17 - 11/2, 2014)

I'm not much of one to write a review, but I do like to share when something is wonderful because I want others to share in that experience as well.

So, I've always said, "If you want to see a perfectly performed play, you peruse a play featuring a Palmer."  I'm mentioning, of course, my friends Jim and JoLynne Palmer whose abilities for acting are more than natural, but everything from facial expressions to inflection of dialogue are mere samples of the aforementioned perfection.  I can promise you that any play featuring them is going to be enjoyable!  And then you brag on their superb abilities and their humbleness begins to shine, making you love them even more.

I can tell you also, that I am a crier.  I cry at sentimental things, unless I can swallow REALLY hard and put it back down in my throat so I don't cry. I hate crying in public because I make really ugly faces when I weep.  That's not a joke, but a real thing.  If you ever are near me when I cry, look away or give me a shoulder (when I'm crying on your shoulder, you can't see my face)!

So, this past week I got notice from Jim that JoLynne is in a play at Voices of the South (in the ground floor of First Congregational Church) and, of course, I have to jump at the chance to see it.  I don't know anything about it, but when I see the advertisement for it...

I realize that it is going to be a drama and I ask Jim:  Am I going to cry?

The play isn't so much about what you'd think it would be about since everyone in the world has to deal with the topic for what drives the characters in the play, Alzheimer's; but, it's about the people affected by it.  Not just the person suffering from it, but also the people in that person's life.  How is it dealt with and how does it feel to suffer from it?  I got a good idea of it tonight in this play.

I don't know if I have ever seen a play written by Jerry Dye (because you don't often get the playwright to visit after the show), but I will tell you that I feel like something has been added to my soul for having had the opportunity to view his work in action.  The characters are well-connected in this story of disconnection, the characters grow a lot in these two hours from being one person when the play begins until the end when they have changed so much. 

I mention meeting the playwright after the play because tonight was the first time the play has been seen by an audience, and there was a talk-back panel at the end to learn from the audience about what needs to be tweaked within the script and action.  Everyone had good ideas and thoughts.  During the talk-back with the cast and crew, some of the audience members were pointing things out that they said lost them a little; but, for me, I felt as thought I fully captured the experience of those moments.  I don't really feel as thought I were lost during the show at all.  Everything that needed to resonate with me did.

One thing noticed during the talk-back is how many people have been affected by Alzheimer's in one way or another, and I guess I really noticed it throughout the play as people were weeping and laughing.  Yes, this play pulls on emotions, tugs on heart strings, and you kind of ride a roller coaster that all comes full circle and leaves you feeling that the story concluded with hope.

Without giving anything away, JoLynne performs as Irene, an elderly woman stricken with Alzheimer's that we watch (along with her friends) descend into that illness of confusion and lost memories.  Her daughter, Luvie, performed by Jenny Madden, is bitter toward her mother and now with all this added stress and personal problems we begin the play wondering how on earth she can handle all of this?  Luvie hires Dolly, performed by Cecelia Wingate, to come tend her mother Irene.  Dolly is full of that southern woman charm and caring--a little too caring in fact as it has spoiled her live-at-home son Dylan (performed by Jon Castro, very well, in fact, as he reminds me of someone I know).  While each of the characters are lost in their own worlds at the beginning of the play, there is one character, Leonard, who pretty much stays grounded and gives us that Rock of Gibraltar performed by the hilarious Steve Swift.  (Muley followers will know Steve as "Sister Myotis" who headlined the First Congo 150th Anniversary Banquet in 2013.)  Yes, there is a very touching moment with Leonard and Irene that will move you emotionally, so hilarious as he is Steve has range!

The play not only works with your emotions in the goings-on of the characters and their lives, but also plays with your psyche in some of the lighting, the sounds, and some of the action of the characters--you feel what Irene feels as she's thinking, questioning, and fearing her confusion and those familiar faces that are now so...distant.  The play, as any good story, has a perfect balance of comfort and discomfort, humor and drama, tears and laughter.

My interest in the play is, of course, the two folks I know who are in it; but, the psychology behind everything I see going on within the characters' worlds on that stage.  It makes one wonder how I, as an only child, may deal with the same situations as my mom ages--Alzheimer's is in our family as well.  And then the many times that the characters mention "am I seen?"  This lends me to want to visit with the playwright one-on-one and discuss his own world as it is reflected in his writing.  I see a bit of conversation between Dylan and his mom as he looks at a relic he kept of his long-gone father's and he wonders if it's stupid that he's held on to this thing hoping for a closer relationship with his own father and I consider the distant relationship I have with my own father (who I can go see, by the way) and my weepies want to come when he asks his mom if 'distance creates something that seems like love?'  That was the moment I finally connected with Dylan and said, "Oof, that's me."

The cast was brilliant.  I never felt like I was at a play.  I felt like I was the proverbial fly-on-the-wall, hanging around and watching other peoples' lives and stories unfold.  I felt like these are all people I  could know, so I was never estranged from the play.

To speak in the vernacular of Dr. Teeth of The Electric Mayhem Band, "This is a narrative of very heavy duty proportions!"  Jerre Dye has captured some beautiful moments, story telling, and written a play in which the actors shone like the brightest stars in the night sky.

Brava to the cast and crew of "Distance!"  Don't make yourself too distant from it, and go see it.  As it is still a work in progress during this run, I plan to go back to the last show to see how it has changed over the course of the run.  And you should go see it also.

Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Show details from the website are found below, followed by a published review.  To learn more about Alzheimer's, click here.

Voices of the South presents
A new play by Jerre Dye
Generously sponsored by Marjorie Palazzolo
Voices of the South @ TheatreSouth (entrance & parking on south side of First Congregational Church)
1000 S. Cooper
Memphis, TN 38104
Dates: October 17-19, 23-26, & November 1-2, 2014 (NOTE: no Friday performance on October 31)
Times: Thursday-Saturday Evenings @ 8:00pm; Sunday Matinees @ 4:00pm
Tickets: $23 Adults, $17 Students/Seniors (Advisory: Strong Language)
Box Office/Reservations: or 901-726-0800
(Tickets available online and at the door; although advance purchase is recommended).
DISTANCE is a new play by award-winning playwright and Voices of the South company member, Jerre Dye. It is the culmination of Voices of the South’s “THREADS” audience participation story project, where patrons were asked to choose from a selection of scenes & monologues they would like to see expanded into a full-length play.
Alzheimer’s is taking Irene Radford further and further away from the small universe of people who inhabit her world. The further Irene drifts into memory, the closer these relative “strangers” become connected to one another. DISTANCE explores questions of memory, identity, relationship, and the vulnerability of change.
Director – Alice Berry
Cast – Jon Castro, Jenny Madden, JoLynne Palmer, Steve Swift, & Cecelia Wingate.
The Playwright: Also known for his celebrated work as an actor and director, Jerre Dye most recently work-shopped Ghosts of Crosstown, for which he wrote the libretti for 5 short operas as part of an Opera Memphis collaboration with Voices of the South. His acclaimed play, Cicada, which was developed with Voices of the South in 2011, opened in Chicago in April and was recently nominated for two 2014 Jeff Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Memphian, Cecelia Wingate. Also for Cicada, Mr. Dye won the The Bryan Family Award for Dramatic Literature from the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011.

Voices of the South and Theatre South are generously funded by ArtsMemphis, Tennessee Arts Commission, Dorothy O. Kirsch, The Jeniam Foundation…and other members of the community.

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