What would you do if you had a child who couldn't run or play or really even communicate? That's the central question of Peter Nichols' 1968 play "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" currently playing at ACT from fledgling theater group Thalia's Umbrella. And while I definitely found some moments and performances in the show thoughtful and engaging, the show itself just seems a bit dated and droning.
In the show Brian and Sheila (Terry Edward Moore and Leslie Law) are the proud parents of 10 year old Josephine (Aidyn Stevens). But the thing is Joe (as they call her) is not your average kid. You see Joe, to put it in non technical terms, is basically a vegetable. She can't walk, talk, or really communicate or care for herself at all. This might make some parents morose or defeated but Brian and Sheila look at life and the world as one big joke. They laugh their way through every situation even to the point of assigning personalities and humor to the silent Joe. But the years of forced humor have taken their toll and now life with Joe may be coming to a head.
The play itself is an interesting looking inside a world most of us (knock wood) won't ever have to succumb. And I'm sure in 1968 it was quite groundbreaking, but not so much anymore. Now it feels so much more of a nostalgia piece. Oh I'm sure that people today struggle with the same issues and even cope in the same way but somehow, whether it's the pacing or the dialogue, the show feels out of sorts. The show still has some amazing moments but, especially in act one, tends to drone on.
The performances in the show are lovely but just as the characters tend to get stuck in one gear in the first act, so do the leads. Moore and Law definitely inhabit their characters and give it their all to keep them engaging and they succeed but at times I just wanted them to get on with the story. But again, that's more the script than them. Things do pick up in Act Two as another couple, Freddie and Pam (Brandon Whitehead and Carol Roscoe), arrive as well as Brian's interfering Mother, Grace (Susan Corzatte who played Sheila in ACT's first production of the show in 1972). Corzatte is lovely in the role but didn't quite seem to connect especially in her monologues to the audience (as the fourth wall is broken several times during the show). But it's Whitehead and Roscoe who really bring in a glorious change of pace for the show as the boorish couple who have so many opinions about what should be done about Joe and long for Brian and Sheila to have some "real children" like they do.
Director Daniel Wilson does what he can with keeping the show moving along but aside from changing the script it just seems an uphill battle. I know there are those who love and gravitate toward this show and for them, this production I'm sure will be a winner. But for me, while it certainly had some magnificent moments on the whole it left me wanting more ... or maybe less.
"A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" from Thalia's Umbrella performs at ACT through February 17th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.
Photo credit: John Ulman