At the start of The Big “A”: Scenes from a Vanishing Landscape an older couple is slow dancing. It is a nice image, until you wonder why both are holding their canes while swaying together. The scene encapsulates the nature of this play which looks at the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease – sometimes there are nice moments accompanied by some baffling distractions and disconnects.
The Big “A” involves a couple who both suffer from declining mental capabilities. Joan (played by a vivacious and talented Lois Bernstein) has a milder version of the illness. She can be amusingly ornery when it comes to taking her pills; she misses her big, strong, black husband; and, she wonders why some sleepy old man lies around her house.
That man is her second husband Alan (Kirk Lambert). He came home from World War II determined to help take care of his African American combat buddy’s two sons and wound up marrying her and becoming stepfather to the boys.
by Robert Epstein
at Sprenger – Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
Details and tickets
Because Joan and Alan both suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, most of the difficulty in dealing with their decline falls upon older son Lou (Mack Leamon), his wife Amy (Mary Claire Hess) and second son Jon (Reuben Bell). While their fatigue at dealing with the demanding and forgetful parents is portrayed, the sense of loss never seems powerful. One episode involving Lou taking care of his father on a trip is done entirely through an unclear monologue, rather than through character interaction.
The Big “A”: Scenes from a Vanishing Landscape is a well-meaning work with touching episodes that are all too familiar to anyone who has ever served as a caretaker to an older family member. Yet inconsistencies in tone and details (for example, the Army was not integrated until after WWII so its unlikely the two soldiers would have formed a friendship and the social implications of the mixed race family are largely ignored) and the lack of a more tightly focused story make the intentions more worthy than the results. It is a world premiere that could benefit from additional work.
Your play was so nicely done in my humble opinion. I loved the layout in three parts – the sofa, the armchair, the table. (then at times the desk for the son at work.)
From an actor, director, and acting teacher:
Something I really liked: in all aspects of the play – the sound, the design, the writing, the colors – there was a string of the joyousness of life that accompanies the sadness of life. In the sound, the mix of music. Some so sad and touching that it moved me to tears. Some so cheerful or funny that it made me smile and think everything was ok despite life’s tragedies. In the design, it was the colors you chose for your set. The brightness of some of the pieces provided a joyful backdrop to some of the heavier moments – as opposed to being drab or depressing-looking. In the writing, the humor. Loved the humor. Could hear your voice in it! So I left the play feeling touched and desirous of life rather than depressed, which I could have felt if a lesser writer had written it.
It was so humanly written, Robert,[Epstein, playwright and director] that I can only believe everyone in the audience left feeling something very profound. Fabulous job.
You asked me to be brutally honest so here is my brutal honesty: Outstanding play! And Rich’s mom [Lois Bernstein]? What a beautiful performance. She is amazing!