Hey Jude, written by Nancy Manocherian, with fine and concise direction by Kira Simring, is a production by The Cell Theatre which is currently at Urban Stages until June 21st. The play is a twist on the Beatles’ Song referenced in the title. The irony is that it is dubious whether Saint Jude is present or will come to “make things better,” for this family is indeed on the brink of being a lost cause. On the other hand, Jude (a measured performance by Adam Weppler), the son of Anna and Henry, appears to be the only one who is “together enough” and loving enough to watch over his parents and direct them toward balance. Whether or not this will inevitably help all of them is left up to us to divine by the conclusion.
The production’s well designed set prompted by Simring’s guidance and Rebecca Freund’s skill reveals a home prepared for the Christmas season. The living room appears jolly and the space looks comfortable and organized, but this is a counterpoint to the true state of this family, which is clinging to a semblance of normality and is failing with every breath taken. The family unit is spurred on by Anna (Deborah Offner does a great job of tottering on the edge and bringing the character back and forth into mania), who tries hard to be loving and forgiving with her husband and son. She manages to succeed with them, but is frightful with herself. The playwright has chosen to reveal this by splitting her up into Anna and Anna 2 (Catherine Dupont is spooky, leering, and excessive as she should be), who represents her teenage alter ego and younger self. It is Anna 2 who led Anna into the marriage abyss. And it is Anna 2 who reminds her of the past, perhaps to prevent Anna from plunging into hopelessness and desperation each day she is alive. But for the need to change, Anna might be a full blown schizophrenic. Each time her family members enter in, she pulls herself back, but we also see that this isn’t easy for her.
As Anna and her husband Henry and Jude live their lives together and Anna makes the preparations for Christmas, the playwright characterizes her full blown mania when she is alone. It is then she wrestles, consorts, and vies with Anna 2 reliving decisions she made, and the regrets she is attempting to expiate through her faith in Jesus after a conversion to Christianity. During these alone moments she talks to Anna 2 and Anna 2 forces her to read her diary. It is then we understand her past as an explanation of her marriage to Henry (a fine performance by Larry Cahn as the confused, forgetful father), who is practically inanimate from his deteriorating dementia. It is then we understand through the reading of her diary, Anna’s past: like many women, Anna wanted to achieve that elusive image of fulfillment with a husband, children, and marriage. But the dream was a dream and the reality is so different; she has to remind herself of how she got to the present state that she and her family are in. Clearly, her marriage to Harry was born out of girlhood fantasy; she loved his outer person. He was a football star, literally and figuratively a “tight end,” and all the girls wanted him as a “catch.”
But the Henry of the present is mentally flatlining; he is becoming a danger to himself. There is little potential active communication between Anna and Henry, so that when Anna says, “We have to talk,” and attempts to bond, Henry shirks his role and avoids her. He is simply incapable of such a stretch. It is only the loving but troubled Jude, an orphan who wants to know his real parents, who can possibly “save the day,” with his insight, prescience, and grounding in reality. Though Anna is trying to hold her family together with attempts at happiness encouraging them to sing favorite Beatles songs with her, the attempts spotlight brightly then fade until Anna’s need for another riff to “keep herself up”manifests.
The playwright has written the characters into a corner, and the movement occurs when Jude discovers his mother’s diary and finds the truth that she has written there. When Jude confronts her about it, he must then tear down his own assumptions and dreams. This may be the turning point Anna and Jude have longed for that can prompt another direction for each of them and a way to handle Henry’s problematic issues which loom on the horizon.
Certainly, Anna’s inner psychic problems, her incapacity for self-love and forgiveness have represented a very long night for her, as she implies at the play’s end: Christmas Eve is such a long night. But the family has made it that far. And when the sounds of “Here Comes the Sun,” break out by the play’s conclusion, we are reminded that it is another day and there is always hope. And for this family, now there is a greater chance of it with the shadows and night gone. Christmas Day has arrived, and the sun is coming out. Perhaps.
Manocherian has written an interesting work that cannot be easily categorized as “another dysfunctional family drama.” It is so much more than that. It is a character study in how people attempt to live with dual realities of past and present and how they adjust their need to overthrow both with creative solutions. Some take medications. Some create alter egos. Some use faith. Some become artists or seek various careers. Some break down and go over the edge. And some select one or the other and never come back to reality to reconcile the two. In expressing this fascinating theme, I like how Manocherian has split Anna into two individual characters revealing that the other parts of ourselves are constantly with us and we can’t just toss them off as if they don’t exist. They do.
Ultimately, in her play Manocherian investigates one woman’s way of coping with regrets from the youthful decisions she made. That other Anna exists within her; Anna uses her to work through to the end of herself and Jude inexorably helps her along too. The trope character choice of the two Annas is an excellent one. Both Offner and Dupont rise to the occasion in their portrayals, though at first, I wasn’t sure if I was “getting it.” But that was okay. Mystery elicits our interest as we question who this woman is (I refused to look in the program to see if the play held…it did). Finally, the theme of how self-love is an integral part of the family unit and how children are vital to bringing this about is a crucial principle of this play. It is why Jude is such an important and pivotal character. Adam Weppler brought this to the fore presenting the maturity and wisdom of his character’s namesake.
The production values, set design, and original score by Michael Dellaira hold together beautifully and the whole is represented, infusing the progression of this family from stasis into forward momentum as day breaks.
Hey Jude is running at Urban Stages until June 21st.
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