NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.
By John Lyle Belden
Being a caregiver for a parent with Alzheimers or a similar condition is one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. With every struggle, you tell yourself, “It’s not about me!” yet you are in your own kind of pain.
In “Blackberry Winter,” playing through Nov. 19 at Theatre on the Square, Vivienne (Gari Williams) speaks to the audience about her caring for a mother who once made the world’s best coconut cake, but in these days would hardly recognize the kitchen.
The play is by Steve Yockey, whose dramas “Octopus” and “Wolves” have played on Indy stages. Those works dealt with stresses of fear and distrust in regards to intimate relationships. In this show, relationship struggles involve memories, objects and beloved family members.
Yockey’s style of including fantasy elements with animal metaphors also comes into play here, as Vivienne occupies her mind by coming up with a “creation myth” for Alzheimers. As the disease has no happy ending, she warns, don’t expect one to her story.
To embody the myth/fable, two of the main animals of the forest come to the stage: Gray Mole (Dan Flahive), who finds happiness simply by digging in the dirt, and optimistic, idealistic White Egret (Chelsea Anderson) who is sure she has found a way to make life better for all the denizens of the woods – at least the ones she sees above ground.
Their story is told in three parts, as Vivienne weaves in more of her monologue. She speaks of how in the mental clouds of this disease, what is real and true becomes blurred by confabulation and “comforting fictions.” We learn the significance of the scarves, the iron, the horse and the trowel, and why Vivienne is “a terrible person” – it’s not just because she fills the swear-bank.
And we see how White Egret’s wonderful idea goes horribly wrong.
This play is thought-provoking and challenging, especially if a relative with dementia is in your life. But in that case, this can also be comforting from shared experience as the spotlight is firmly on the caregiver’s role. Directed by Lori Raffel, this is an excellent glimpse into a difficult subject, with great performances delivered with gentle humor by the on-stage trio.
Find TOTS at 627 Massachusetts Ave., downtown Indianapolis; call 317-685-8687 or see www.tots.org.