When my mom suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of 79 we obviously dropped everything and flew straight to Cleveland. The blood vessel that popped in her brain cruelly stole, at least for those first few recovery months, much of what made my mom my mom. This in itself was terrible, of course, and so many things about the experience were awful and frustrating. Chief among them for me was the fact that the medical staff seemed to be just treating a body. They were not treating a person. Certainly not my just recently highly social, well accessorized, and formidable mother, now tiny and suffering in the stroke unit at The Cleveland Clinic.
Something had to be done to rectify at least some small part of this dire situation. I went to my childhood home, got a box and loaded it up with photos. Meme on a camel. Meme next to the Great Pyramids. Meme hiking with friends. Meme with her grandkids. You get the idea. I filled every surface of that sad little hospital room with photo after photo of my mom being my mom. Not so much for her (though that was an added bonus) but, so the staff would recognize the body they were treating as a person with a singular and important identity that we all wanted back.
At the time it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to create identity placards for every patient like my mom everywhere around the world. I pictured these patients who, like my mom, had been robbed of their identity wearing these placards across their chest. It would be like a graphic t-shirt announcing to everyone they encountered who they were. Example: My name is Linda. I love dogs, traveling, the theater, my family and friends and connecting people through shared life experiences. What would your placard say? I really want to know. So I repeat, what would your placard say?
Let’s say I had gone and opened my identity placard business and was faced with having to create such a sign for the star of our play last night, the beyond formidable Elaine May. I would have had to rethink my business model and fashion this amazing woman a scroll the length of a football field detailing the extent of her countless achievements and neon colored life experiences. Grab a cup of coffee, ice tea or chardonnay before you click this link to learn more about my new favorite female phenom. You are going to want to hover there for a good long while.
Spending time with this wikipedia bio was the first thing I did yesterday morning and I have been in a wildly good mood ever since. I’ve been inspired and happy that such a person lives on the same planet as me and that I got to see her exercise her craft on stage at The Golden Theater. Wow.Wow. Wow.
I then proceeded to follow the husband around the apartment peppering him with all sorts of Elaine May tidbits. She dropped out of school when she was 14! She got married to an inventor/toy maker at 16. (“Is that even legal?,” the husband asked.) She moved to Chicago because the University of Chicago was the only place that would accept her without a high school diploma. She was married to Sheldon Harnick (whom the husband and I were lucky enough to be seated with at a dinner a year ago). It went on and on until he turned in a different direction on the sidewalk leaving me with a headful of Elaine May facts swirling in my brain. Whatever Elaine May is doing please lord let me do that too so I can be like her. Not when I am 86, but right now. I’d be happy to be her right now, 86 years and all!
All that said, Elaine does not need such a placard or scroll. At 86, her identity is iron strong, firmly in place and obvious for all to see on stage now at The Waverly Gallery. There are many, many reasons to grab your group and go see this show about a person and family grappling with the identity stealer of all identity stealers: Alzheimer’s. The interaction of the stellar ensemble cast including Joan Allen, Michael Cera, and Lucas Hedges (making his Broadway debut). The content. The humor. You will laugh. A lot. Then you will wonder if your laughter was appropriate. The playwright, Kenneth Lonergan HAD to inject wry bits of humor into the dialogue or the audience would have been a collective depressed mess. I am guessing this topic hit uncomfortably close to home for many, many people in the audience. One fellow quipped, “It’s like seeing a play about my family!” Ouch.
Don’t go if you can’t handle shows in the category of not uplifting. Do go if you want to see reality played out on the stage by actors at the tippy top of their acting game. Go to see Elaine May. She is reason enough to grab your group and go see this show. Bring tissues. Bring a good friend to hug after the show (wear camel!). Experience this show and all of it’s cathartic goodness and because of Elaine May. Have I mentioned Elaine May? I’ll stop now.
For a more play by play traditional review of this show I recommend the words published by The New York Times. I perused many a review this morning – and they were all positive. This show is a limited run closing: January 27th. So if you are gonna grab your group and go, I suggest you do it soon.