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LA Theater Review

Well

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At her website, writer-performer Lisa Kron explains that her stage works occupy "the gray area between theater and performance art." That makes them far less easily categorized or described than most plays. It also makes them less accessible to the random audience. This 2004 work, her first major play, has all these qualities. Panndora's new staging proves that Kron's taking such a subjective, acutely personalized approach to facets of her own life may be judged as equally endearing and self-indulgent.

The conceit is simple: We watch Lisa (Karen Wray) use index cards to help her stage a play about illness and wellness, with herself and her mother, Ann (Sonja Berggren), as examples. In the process, we learn some of what the chronically ailing Ann has endured and quite a lot more about what Lisa suffered in her college years before she ultimately healed. As with many plays that blur the line between illusion and reality, the actors surrounding Wray and Berggren portray not just figures from the Krons' lives; they also play themselves playing those figures.

Despite a self-assured staging by director MaryAnne Mosher, nagging issues prevent this staging from reaching its full potential. Wray is tall and powerfully built, making it difficult for us to accept her as someone struggling with illness. Berggren's Ann seems run-down and something of a hypochondriac. Though it's easy to buy they're mother and daughter, their interactions desperately need the kind of raw feeling that's so unpleasant as to make us squirm. That surreal feeling, of not knowing whether we're witnessing something scripted or something spontaneous and real, is a must for any staging of "Well" to succeed. Here, that feeling exists only in dribs and drabs, often sparked by the work of J.J. Boone and Philip Bushell as various people from Lisa's past.

Presented by Panndora Productions at the Empire Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Apr. 22–May 15. Fri.–Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Also Thu., 8 p.m., May 12.) (323) 377-2988. www.panndoraproductions.com.

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