When Audrey Bertaux takes the stage as Lisa Kron at the beginning of Well, being staged at 1st Stage, her character will explain to the audience that the play is not “about my mother and me” despite the fact that the play very much does explore the relationship between the playwright and her force-of-nature mother Ann.
Historians may know Ann Kron as a prominent community activist in the ’60s, who fought against segregation and brought about great change in Lansing, Mich., when she founded the Westside Neighborhood Organization. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the elder Kron suffered from a chronic illness yet accomplished a great deal despite her suffering.
Well is a funny and touching comedy about a mothers and her daughter, mind over body, social activism and theatre itself. Director Michael Bloom pitched the play to 1st Stage artistic director Alex Levy last year because it became one of the favorites when he directed it at the Cleveland Playhouse in 2006.
“The combination of humor and heart and adventurous structure made it really irresistible for audiences,” he says. “The reason I wanted to do it again is I think it’s more relevant today. It’s a play about a woman who helped integrate Lansing, Mich., and given the political climate we are in, it’s incredibly relevant.”
Bloom had a phone conversation with the playwright Lisa Kron about his ideas for the play, and she was open to everything he had in store.
“She is obviously a character in the play and she played herself when it was done in New York so I think she wants to give people the freedom to do their own thing,” he says. “Because she is so close to it as a writer and actor, she probably doesn’t want to know much about other people playing her now.”
There aren’t that many plays that he wants to revisit, Bloom said, but this story has always had a special place in his heart.
“I’ve been fortunate as a freelancer to direct plays that I really like. It’s rare I want to redo one but this really cries out to be done now,” he says. “Plus, one of the things I tell my cast is I can’t remember what I did last time in much detail. That’s good in a way because it allows me to come at this with a fresh perspective.”
Back in 2006, Bloom directed the show in a 500-house theater, which is almost four times the size of 1st Stage. He feels the smaller venue is actually a good thing for the production.
“Scaling down the show has been something I’ve been focusing on. It’s also a great opportunity because the character of Lisa talks directly to the audience and at 1st Stage, that can really be effective,” he says. “I like the theater because it is so intimate. Alex [Levy, Artistic Director] is making the theater a major player in the area and it’s been a real pleasure to be working with him.”
Elizabeth Pierotti will be making her third appearance at 1st Stage. Before nabbing the part, the actress wasn’t familiar with the play and had never worked with Bloom before.
“The day I went into the audition, I had just returned from driving back and forth to Ohio, as I had dropped my son off at school,” she says. “I was exhausted so I looked the part. Ann is this incredibly energetic woman in an exhausted body. I was right for it at that moment.”
She laughs that when she met Bloom a while later to talk about the direction of the character, he didn’t even recognize her.
“I told him not to worry, I know what exhausted looks like,” Pierotti says. “Most of my research for the role was centered around helping me create the human being of Ann Kron. She was very complicated—a mother, an activist and a very sick person. She suffered most of her life from what people would now call chronic fatigue syndrome.”
The actress researched the disease and how it affects people physically, and also looked at what was happening in Civil Rights at the time Ann was leading the charge.
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“She helped integrate this neighborhood outside of Lansing, so I looked at what was happening at the time, what a community organizer would do and looked at practical information about that,” Pierotti says. “I looked at a lot of other ideas about diversity and creativity and what it means when you are in the last chapter of your life and most of your projects are in the past. I tried to explore what that felt like.”
It’s her hope that audiences leave the theater with a better understanding of the importance of acceptance.
“Sometimes people make snap judgments because of age, health, and in some respects the color of someone’s skin,” Pierotti says. “I think people are shortchanged a lot of times because of that. Everyone has value and everyone can contribute.”