Theatre is back and I’ve Got Goosebumps… “Death Tax” at the Albany Barn
“’Death Tax!’ What an awful title! After 14 months of grief and isolation, who wants to see that? I just want to laugh and be entertained. Why would you want to do that your first chance back in a theater?”
Theater is, of course, the greatest thing I’ve missed during the pandemic and specifically I’ve missed the goosebumps. There are hundreds of other attendant pleasures with theater. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed bumping into people until we attended a bunch of friend’s shows this past month. I love all the different venues in the Capital Region, even more now that many are performing outside. We’re thrilled that so many groups are up producing live theater after such a long wait. “Sometimes-there’s God-so quickly!” Tennessee Williams has Blanche say. I’ve missed the goosebumps of sitting with a group of citizens and acknowledging shared truths with laughs, gasps or tears. I’ve missed my church.
“Death Tax” is about an extremely wealthy elderly woman who bribes her nurse for better care to live longer. Faced with death, everyone she comes into contact with makes questionable decisions to get what they need to live. The play is not about death, so much, but what do you need to live and how far are you willing to go to get it. To me, it’s the perfect play to come out of the pandemic with, not only as an expression of what I believe in but as the creation of it puts my faith into action. When faced with the thousandth stream alone on my laptop and challenged with the question of what do you need to live, I answer with this.
This is entertainment to me. I have never laughed at a sex farce as much as I have at “Slave Play,” “Downstate” or “Fairview.” Serious plays that seek to enlighten us are not the opposite of comedies but the best use humor to strengthen your connection to them and their themes.
I’ve carried this play around for six years. I’ve probably used it every season of my acting class and my one semester at UAlbany, assigning students Maxine’s monologue or her scene with Nurse Tina or Tina’s with Todd. This play is when I fell in love with Lucas Hnath’s writing and sought out the rest of his plays, reading and seeing productions of his all over: “The Christians” at Syracuse Stage, “Red Speedo at NYTW, “The Thin Place” at Playwright’s, “Doll’s House Part 2” on Broadway, at BSC, SCP and The Hangar and especially “Dana H” at The Vineyard in our last trip to The City which was my absolute favorite production of 2020. It was a rigorous performance as the actor, the incredible Deirdre O’Connell, mouthed the words of the playwright’s mother’s recorded testimony of a brutal and harrowing captivity she experienced at the hands of a mental patient. Phenomenally singular theatrical experience that was simultaneously blood chilling and terrifically exciting in its execution. Goosebumps.
I had been teaching in-person acting classes at Albany Barn since November and was excited about the level of interest in class while everyone was so cautious and grateful for the cooperation and flexibility of Casey Polomaine and the space itself. When Governor Cuomo announced indoor performances were permitted, we were able to jump on it with a Scene Night that had 13 scenes and monologues on April 17th. Even before this went up, I was given the confidence of all this enthusiastic participation by my students to schedule “Death Tax,” a Capital Region premiere by an Obie winning playwright who has only had one production locally featuring the debuts of two Capital Region actors. There aren’t many communities in the country that can rival the Capital Region for theater interest in participation. I feel lucky to live here.
In Lee Blessing’s great “Two Rooms” about a wife who in an effort to commune with her husband who is a hostage, she stages a room in her house to be what she imagines his cell might be like in Lebanon to feel his presence. My mother and her current assisted living home are in no way, shape or form anything like Maxine in the nursing home in the play but it’s very rare that I can feel useful lately in caring for my mother and I am deeply gratified to show up to rehearsal to be able to work on scenes that include having this elderly mother in a nursing home, struggle to her feet and reach mightily to turn on the radio which plays “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
These are the rehearsal rooms and performance spaces I want to create and seek out. Spaces that are related to our world and show ourselves in who we are and who we could be. Plays that are grounded in reality and take an imaginative leap, giving us goosebumps of delight in discovering something new, making theater the thing we need to live. “With the fire of life impassioned/Striving still to truth unknown.”
“Death Tax” by Lucas Hnath
FREE Pay-What-You-Want Performance
Sunday, 6/6 at 7pm (email firstname.lastname@example.org for a reservation, maximum capacity of 50 people)
Opens Monday 6/7, runs Mondays through Wednesdays until 6/16
With Debby Bercier, Lisa Bryk, Dmitriy Kogan & Monet Thompson
56 2nd Street
Albany, NY 12210