Dallas — All poetry is about love, death and the seasons, Robert Frost observed in an essay on his craft. Certainly, drama that reminds us how tightly braided together is the rush of joy we feel for certain people and places with our deep knowledge that all things change in time and mortals die. How terribly tragic. On the other hand, the notion of beautiful, complex creatures just born to die is so ridiculously bizarre that we just have to laugh. Surely, this is a joke. Heartbreak territory, for sure.
Clare Barron's witty and touching You Got Older, a semi-autobiographical play—Barron's father had cancer and she moved home to care for him after losing her job and her boyfriend—is directed with gritty intimacy by Tina Parker in its regional premiere at Kitchen Dog Theater. Mae (a nerved-up, vulnerable Jenny Ledel) is plowing through the mortality realization. And, boy, is the trip ever painful, revealing, messy, exhilarating, stupidly humiliating and funny ha-ha. Then everyone suddenly whirls in ecstatic dance. What just happened?
When we first meet her, Mae's life is so unraveled that she fears imminent breakdown. Her boyfriend has dumped her and fired her from his law firm, and now she's moved back home to take care of Dad (a restrained Barry Nash), recently diagnosed with advanced cancer. She's developed an itchy rash. What's a neurotic hypochondriac with nympho leanings to do?
While grappling with her own uprooted life and ragged nights disturbed by a raging libido, Ledel's hapless Mae makes strained small talk with Dad as they both skirt his illness and smile at each other. Nash's Dad is a kindly man who feels his daughter's insecurities perhaps more than she sees his courage at this hard moment. We can see every twitch of Nash's lips and hear Ledel's every sigh clearly in Parker's up-close and personal production. Dad and daughter move easily about the front porch of Claire Floyd DeVries's handsome wood frame set that serves smartly as home, bedroom, bar and hospital room. Kudos to lighting designer Lisa Miller and sound designer John M. Flores, who provide atmosphere for a crucial plot turn. Turns out Mae's nights are commandeered by a macho Cowboy (Max Hartmann, in retro-Marlboro Man mode) in a black Stetson and sheepskin jacket who drags her in out of a blinding blizzard and takes over until Dad knocks at her bedroom door and her raunchy rescuer exits stage left.
For one brief crazy moment, it looks like she'll get some real-life sex and maybe relief from her stress rash when she meets Mac (tall, dark and boyishly accommodating Ryan Woods) at a neighborhood bar in a funny scene where it turns out he mistakes Mae for her sister. Never mind. Mac's 's ready to drop in anyway, which he literally does in a goofy-funny, hyper-realistic failed sex scene.
Sliced into Mae's frayed personal life and hard-breathing fantasies is a family scene with her siblings gathered around sleeping Dad's bed after surgery. We see where Mae's coming from when we hear the interaction of pushy big sister Hannah (take-charge Brandy McClendon Kea), sweetie pie brother Matthew (empathetic Ruben Carrazana) and happy youngest sister Jenny (eager Haley Nelson), a chatty lesbian in love. They all love their father and talk over his sleeping body about everything from the "particularly pungent" family odor to the genetic diseases they've inherited—just one example of the play's bawdy banter involving bodily fluids and anatomy.
The scenes grow shorter and move faster as we close in on this 105-minute production played without an intermission. Who got older, and what does that imply? It's fun to speculate, especially with the help of the intelligent facial expressions of the bewitching Ledel as she experiences a glimmer of something almost foreign. New furry boots? Happiness?
A lovely epiphany, which won’t be spoiled here, recalls another Frost observation on human existence. "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."
And so will your memories of this smart production of a funny, poignant play.