Serious comedy

‘Well’ a funny look at serious subjects

Bluffton University’s fall play uses humor to explore some serious issues.

In “Well,” Lisa Kron—the protagonist as well as the playwright—mines her experiences with her mother, Ann, to address questions of health and illness, both in individuals and communities. Their on-stage interaction also underscores the struggle in making sense of relationships and, sometimes, realities, says Dr. Melissa Friesen.

Friesen, a professor and chair of communication and theatre at Bluffton, will direct the show, being staged at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7-9 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10 in Ramseyer Auditorium in College Hall. Reserved tickets, $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for senior citizens (65 and over) and non-Bluffton students, are available online at http://tickets.bluffton.edu or at the door.

Meg Leatherman, a senior from Hesston, Kan., portrays Ann Kron, who, for a time in the late 1960s, was the active president of a neighborhood association in an intentionally integrated neighborhood in Lansing, Mich.

But at the same time, she was always ill, a situation that she was convinced was due to allergies, particularly from chemicals in the environment. “The medical establishment didn’t quite know what to do with her,” says Friesen, adding that Kron was diagnosed with mononucleosis six times and was once so sick that doctors thought she would die.

Lisa Kron, played by sophomore Amanda Bartel from Iowa City, Iowa, also had allergies when she was young and even went to a Chicago hospital for allergy testing. Unlike her mother, though, Lisa got better, and, in “Well,” she tries to sort out why some people get sick and others don’t, and why some recover while others don’t, Friesen notes.

The playwright, who is a solo performance artist as well, also delves into the difficulty of empathizing with others’ illness. The director says Kron wonders if sickness is psychosomatic, or even a moral failure, not understanding how her mother—while ill—could accomplish so much with such energy in a challenging neighborhood situation, and asking why she can’t make herself well.    

Kron puts her mother in the play as a way to try to understand, and control, her, but it doesn’t work like she plans, to comic effect, Friesen says. While gracious and warm—she offers snacks to the audience—and a loving mother, Ann Kron becomes a disruptive force. “The mom is interrupting all the time and calling Lisa on her blind spots” in the story she’s trying to tell, the director explains.

Lisa brings in five other actors—in this case, Bluffton students who play multiple parts, including themselves as actors in the play—for her self-described “theatrical exploration.” Her mother, however, wants to introduce herself to them and offers them drinks when they’re supposed to be rehearsing scenes from her daughter’s past.

“They start to become more enamored with the mother” and less interested in the play, putting Lisa off while they talk with Ann, says Friesen. And the personal connections they make with her mother become a problem for Lisa, too, she adds.

“This play is not about my mother and me,” Lisa Kron tells the audience at the beginning of “Well,” which was first produced in 2004 and opened on Broadway in 2006. But she uses her relationship with her mother as a vehicle to explore the issues in the play, which takes a poignant turn at the end, Friesen says.

Several of the student-actors in the university production are new to the Bluffton stage. They come from different disciplines, and with various levels of experience, to take advantage of an opportunity generally unavailable at larger universities with theatre majors, the director points out. “It is a hallmark of our program,” she says.

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