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The penultimate play in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 2013-14 season is a new work by North Carolina playwright Deborah Salem Smith, Love Alone. The play takes its title from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Milay, “Love Is Not All.” The poem indicates that we cannot get by on love alone, but that we try, often, nonetheless. The show premiered at the Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island, where Smith is playwright-in-residence.
Love Alone focuses on two separate families who have been affected by the loss of a patient in a medical procedure. The first family is that of Susan Warren, the deceased: Helen Warren (Julia Gibson), Susan’s partner of 20 years, and Clementine (Arielle Yoder), Susan’s biological daughter. The other family is that of Dr. Becca Neal (Jenny Wales), who aided in Susan’s operation. Due to complications after surgery, Susan has died. The aftermath, and its effect upon these two families, is the crux of the play.
It is Dr. Neal’s responsibility to tell Helen that Susan didn’t make it. She does so quickly, with as little embellishment as possible, leaving Helen devastated; the procedure had been categorized as a minor one. Clementine, who had only just left to go home, returns, furious at the doctors and the hospital. She demands to know what happened. But neither the attending physician, Dr. Hendricks, nor anyone else at the hospital, is willing to see either of them. They are stonewalled by the Decedent Services Rep (Kathryn Hunter-Williams), the nurses, and Dr. Hendricks’ assistant, who informs the waiting Helen that Dr. Hendricks has “gone to lunch,” despite the fact that it is only 10:00 a.m. Wild with grief and a desire to know why, Clementine consults an attorney, Mr. Rush (Derrick Ivey), and ultimately Helen and Clem decide to sue the hospital for wrongful death. This throws Dr. Neal into a quandary; this is the first patient she has ever lost and she is as much concerned with telling the truth as Helen is to get it. The whole incident, from the operation to the lawsuit, has Becca so intent on her practice that it causes a riff between her and her husband of six years, JP Whitman (Patrick McHugh). The situation is so fraught that, at one point, JP walks out.
The entirety of the play is performed onstage at the Paul Green Theater, where those who know the venue will see the lack of a certain trademark structure. The raised thrust, which normally juts out into the audience, is gone; the play is presented on the floor of the theater. This new arrangement makes for a larger acting area, and this play, with its unusual staging, makes use of every inch. We are greeted by a set so like a waiting room that the computer screens overhead transport us directly into a hospital. These screens also depict Clem as she plays electric guitar for her band, “One-Armed Edna.” This is a brilliant set by scenic designer Lee Savage.
Director Vivienne Benesch stages this work so that two scenes are performed onstage together, with dialogue often overlapping, and the same space is occupied by members of different scenes. Thus, when Mr. Rush is speaking with Clem, and Becca is fighting with her husband, the two scenes take place at the same dining room table. This innovative style works perfectly for the play, bringing together the two families whose lives are most affected by this tragedy.
This sextet of actors is in fine form, bringing the terrible news to the stage so that we feel the debacle full-force. Arielle Yoder was perfect for her role; she displayed the ready emotions of a redhead and how Clementine skillfully negotiates this rollercoaster ride of delightful highs and devastating lows better than Helen, who cannot come to grips with the situation. It takes Helen several months just to unpack the bag of material she was given at the hospital with all of Susan’s affects. Ivey nailed the role of Mr. Rush, a no-nonsense, hard-as-nails lawyer who must grill Dr. Neal in order to bring to light the exact situation that caused Susan’s demise. All six of the play’s characters work together in ensemble fashion to carry us through to the final dual scene of Helen on the one hand and Becca and her husband on the other.
No one, despite objections, is truly ready for the death of a loved one, and it is impossible to put oneself in such a position until it actually happens. But this play gives us a lesson in how one might cope, how it can tear at the human fabric, and how it changes one’s life forever. An ensemble cast of top-notch performers and a truly individual and potent play make this production of Love Alone one that will stick with you. The performance received a standing ovation opening night, evidence that this is a first-rate and evocative work. Make your reservations now, because word of mouth will sell this show out early.
Love Alone continues through Sunday, March 16. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.