SUZIE SHEPARD BRINGS THE MADNESS OF A DISAPPOINTED HOUSE WIFE, A TOUR DE FORCE PERFORMANCE AT
THE TOWN HALL THEATRE
Alice through the looking glass comes to mind in Playwright Alan Ayckbourn masterpiece WOMAN IN MIND now on stage at the Town Hall Theatre through March 24th. His 1985 play is a master of light comedy and social satire as he shows off his darker side. Town Hall Theatre Artistic Director Susan E. Evans brings together two members of her THT team to shine in this production she says “I’m especially excited that Dennis Markam, Managing Director and Suzie Shepard, our Community Engagement Specialist, are sharing their considerable talents.Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of WOMEN IN MIND.” This is the second time Director Markam has staged this play, he says, ”I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a third or fourth time. The reason I keep coming back is the character of Susan; (she) is the story, and Alan Ayckbourn has written her with such affection and respect that she is a hard to sum up.”
Markam has cast an amazing group of actors headed by Shepard - to bring this modern ‘Alice in (pill popping, champagne drinking) Wonderland’ to the Lafayette Ca stage. WOMAN IN MIND deals in the hallucinations that are part of a middle-aged woman’s nervous breakdown and the fall of a family that likely played a part in her madness. The story takes place in an English garden over the course of 48 hours. As Ayckbourn tells it, her mental breakdown is a retreat into the babble of champagne breakfasts and jolly tennis matches.
There's an extra level of loneliness because her hallucinations take place in a mythical take of England. All the performances are impressive, but Suzie Shepard as Susan brings a tour de force performance as a woman losing her grip. There is plenty of comedy, notably the fumbling, tripping, antics of the enthusiastic Erin Gould as Dr. Bill Windsor. Susan’s real husband Gerald is played by the superb Michael Sally who stresses over his wife’s manic moods. Her sister-in-law and house assistant Muriel is played by the frisky and hilarious Gretchen Lee Salter doing her best to serve her sister tea. The able Domonic Tracy plays the distant son, Rick, who has yet to tell his mom he is married.
The ridiculous rants of Susan’s champagne swilling visions of her fantasy family keep her inner world confused are portrayed by the dapper Craig Souza, the terrific Tom Holt Jones and the splendid Brooke Silva. Beyond the laughs, there is tragedy in Ayckbourn’s story that deals with the real pain of mental illness. Shepard makes Susan’s loneliness and confusion understandable. Her sadness is painful to watch as she realizes her disconnect from her lost husband Gerald played local favorite Michael Sally who brings the right pomposity, rational thought through his commanding performance.
Photo's by Jay Yamada
While the play explains Susan’s mental breakdown could be the result of her having stepped on a garden rake and lost consciousness, a subtext slowly emerges. Her lifetime of mom stress and disappointment, lack of fulfillment, a lost marriage, disappointing mother-son relationship and tedium is the real reason for her trip through the rabbit hole. Director Markam explores the humor as well as the loss of sanity of this housewife. He explores a woman’s “daydreams,” and feelings and the sold out weekend audience connects with Shepard as she identifies Susan's insanity.
Suzie Shepard, who never leaves the stage through out the two acts, poignantly depicts Susan’s descent into her breakdown with dignity. In fact, it’s easy to understand the audience’s slip into giggles as the psychotic symptoms get worse. The set by the creative Brian Watson is a detailed green lawn yard with full size trees and rich with props by Wallace Yan. Susan’s madness uses every aspect of her lost world as we wait to see if the Mad Hatter will make an appearance. The lighting by Delayne Medoff is effective as we see Susan’s dream state family enter her garden vs her real family bring a different tone to the lights. Costume Designer Hope Birdwell has the challenge to create a real look for the cast and a fantasy colorful look for Susan’s dream states including Geralds Pope robes. Stage Manager Kate Saville keeps the story moving and Michael Kelly’s sound design effectively suggest Susan’s state of mind. The clever set allows for impressive sunsets -related stage-works and Susan E Evans effective twist for the perfect dialect, coached the players for just the right voices.
The cast of eight captures the uneasy nature of the final scene in which all of Susan’s earlier hallucinations and friends blend together, its imagery reality creates a nightmarish tone yet the sunset ending is perfect and yet heartbreaking than it seems. The the two hour plus play is an impressive performance by Shepard and worth a visit to the Town Hall Stage. Next up is Jane Austen's SENSE & SENSIBILITY that opens this summer June 8th. But in the meantime join Susan in her garden for a glass of the perfect champagne and meet all her friends.
TOWN HALL THEATRE Presents
ALAN AYCKBOURN’S DARK COMEDY
WOMAN IN MIND
Directed by Dennis Markam
Must Close March 24th
Runs 2 hours 30 min with one intermission
Town Hall Theatre Company
3535 School Street, in Lafayette, CA.
Tickets at BOX OFFICE: (925) 283-1557;
Photos by Jay Yamada
THE CAST Suzie Shepard as Susan, Michael Sally as Gerald, Craig Souza as Andy, Erin Gould as Bill, Tim Holt Jones as Tony, Gretchen Lee Salter as Muriel, Brooke Silva as Lucy and Domonic Tracy as Rick.
LOOK FOR THE THT EVENT
ONE NIGHT ONLY 4.14
Town Hall ThEATre History: Guided by Local Food Adventures
The Powerful Jane Austen and the Women Behind Town Hall Theatre.
Production: Sense & Sensibility
April 14, 2018; 4PM-6PM