Tony Award-winning playwright Lisa Kron (Fun Home) gets all meta in her comedic memory play about mothers and daughters, so it comes as no surprise that Bree Bridger, who is directing Well for Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company, decided to do the same.
Bridger doesn't just break the fourth wall, she's gone beyond that in staging the production. "We’re really embracing the meta theatrical nature of the show. We’re really expanding the performance space — not just the thrust stage of Studio 101 — even the house and the front lobby as part of the entire show," says Bridger. "We’re having a lot of fun exploring different ways that we can break it down. This show is not limited to the stage."
As for the meta in the script itself, with the playwright's character on stage and her mother in the house, it's an experiment in theatrical form. "The play begins with Lisa Kron as a character directly telling the audience what she has planned for the show, what they’re about to see," says Bridger. "She has a very clear plan about what she’s going to present to the audience, what they’ll explore as the play progresses."
Even the most meticulous of plans can soon go awry, and the script for Well is no exception. "There is some element of surprise to the show in specifically how Lisa starts to lose control. Lisa Kron using her mother’s story and inviting her mother to be present for the play leads to serious complications," says Bridger.
Bridger first came across Kron's autobiographical play about two and a half years ago and that's when she began talking to Jennifer Decker, Mildred's Umbrella's co-founder and artistic director, about mounting the production. "The content of the play struck me in a couple of ways. It’s very autobiographical, pulled directly from Lisa Kron’s life about her mother and her mother’s work in the late '60s and early '70s. Her community activism focusing on integrating her neighborhood and her personal experience working in a hospital with chronic illness."
Bridger says she studied political science in school and was attracted to the social aspects of the script. "That resonated with me," says Bridger. "Lisa tries to look at her childhood in an analytical way as a removed artist."
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In the script, Well draws on Kron's real-life experiences as a child. Her parents sent her to a mostly African-American elementary school in hopes of encouraging integration; three years later the city of Lansing, Michigan, made integration a mandate in its schools. Kron's other autobiographical play, 2.5 Minute Ride, juxtaposes a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp with her father and the family's annual visit to an amusement park, challenging audience members to figure out the setting for each scene.
Kron, who wrote the lyrics and book for the musical Fun Home (based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel/memoir), won a Tony Award for Best Original Score and also Best Book of a Musical; the musical also took home the win for Best Musical in 2015.
The Mildred's Umbrella production stars Sammi Sicinski as Lisa Kron and Sally Burtenshaw as her mother, with Callina Anderson, Xzavien Hollins, Ryan Kelly and Shelby Blocker in the ensemble.
Performances of Well run January 18 through February 3, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and January 29, 3 p.m. January 28, Studio 101, 1824 Spring Street, 832-463-0409, mildredsumbrella.com, $15 to $25.