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When Real Life Begins

Reviewed by Jeanette Toomer

Presented by Chain Lightning Theatre at the Connelly Theatre, 220 E. 4 St., NYC, Sept. 13-Oct. 1.

"When Real Life Begins" is poignant and heart-rending in both words and performance. Playwright Karen Sunde writes a powerfully moving testament to a dedicated actor. Raye Lankford is both wife and widow in a rich and dynamic portrayal that reaches deep within and delivers brilliantly on all fronts.

With a small gesture or a look, Lankford easily moves between the present time, after her actor husband's death, to moments in the past that vividly demonstrate their love and his ongoing struggle with cancer. She capably handles his dialogue as well as her own, and skillfully creates images of places and situations by maneuvering herself effortlessly on or between a chair, table, or bed.

Lankford is totally engrossing in a sad story that, in spite of the pall of inevitable death, manages to draw a few well-placed laughs when she recalls their life before cancer. In spite of her very different career, she involves herself more and more in the world of theatre to support her husband, who continues to act on stage even up to his final days.

The direction by Ken Marini is right on, eliciting a depth of emotion and energy that runs through this performance like electricity. Marini keeps the audience plugged in—to a woman's enduring love, and a man's desperate reach for the final, ultimate performance.

Lighting design by Scott Clyve provides subtle changes that reinforce the passing of time or change in location. The sparse set by Dorothea Brunialti allows for ample freedom of movement, and lends itself to the imagination.

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