Directed by Anna Strasser
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The stressors of coping with the loss of a dear friend and loved one seem to override the default coping mechanisms humans consciously or unconsciously depend on to navigate through the daily matrix of more “normal” stressors like missing a bus, or forgetting a wallet, or nor remembering to charge a cell phone. The dynamics of loss trigger an unhealthy set of inappropriate responses to even the most innocent question or challenge. The bereaved temporarily forget the need for adult-adult responses and slip too easily into parent-child responses which inevitable spiral out of control and leave friends and family pulled into in a dysfunctional vortex.
This process is exacerbated when the deceased has committed suicide as did soon-to-be physician Conner with the gun owned by his OCD girlfriend Sara (Lauren LaRocca) who joins Conner’s sister Jessica (Lipica Shah), her girlfriend Taylor (Lauren Hennessy), and Connor’s roommate Lucas (Scott Thomas) in his apartment to plan Connor’s service and sort out their individual and collective grief. Each member of this non-intentional extended family has her or his own life-problems. Sara is obsessive compulsive (more on this later); Jessica has attempted suicide in the past; Taylor often colludes with Jessica’s controlling and sometimes destructive behavior; and Lucas depends heavily on recreational drugs to get by.
Playwright Jacob Marx Rice brings these characters into the same setting and sparks fly! Mr. Rice has created well-rounded characters each with conflicts easily identified by the audience. These conflicts drive a matrix of interesting plots with rich layers of exposition. The process of grieving and the styles of coping are complicated by the dysfunctional relationships and the individual psychological idiosyncrasies of each member of this oddly configured extended family. An extended family that includes the whacky funeral director Janie (Dinah Berkeley) who is as “professional” as she is completely quirky.
The creative team has developed a convention to help the audience “visualize” the difficulty Sarah has coping with her boyfriend’s suicide. Grieving is one trigger that can “boot up” a string of uncomfortable obsessive- compulsive behaviors and the playwright and director have found an interesting way to deal with that event. It is also used to open the possibility of defining what is real and what is not in the context of the play.
Director Anna Strasser allows her talented ensemble of actors to “paint” with a large brush that fills the stage with colorful scenes that range from comedic interludes to deeply cathartic moments of truth and transparency. It is doubtful the audience will ever understand the process of coping in traditional ways again after seeing “Coping.”