By Myra Chanin
One thing about New York. Important art exists everywhere, more often in relatively unheralded and unknown but quite comfortable venues like the intimate Hudson Guild Theater in Chelsea where I stumbled onto a gripping, first full length play, Mourning the Living, by Mickele Hogan about a compelling subject—dealing with the emotional and physical complications of a former workaholic husband/partner felled by Early Onset Alzheimer’s. I’m hard pressed to think of anything worse for everyone in the vicinity.
Mickele Hogan, the very young playwright – who just graduated from Tisch School of the Arts in May 2014 — demonstrates a deep understanding of the conflicting, complex emotions of everyone involved in this situation, drawing on her summer job experiences as a caregiver with Home Instead Senior Care, an organization that provides compassionate and reliable home care services to keep seniors safe and independent in their homes. They are sponsoring this production because of its accurate depiction of the impact Alzheimer’s has on a person’s family, friends and caregivers.
Mourning the Living is the story of a high school teacher, Kay (Jennifer Rau), who is falling in love with the school’s principal, Jerry (Chris Bolan), even though she is still living with her husband David (Andrew Rothenberg), who has Alzheimer’s disease. Kay hasn’t told Jerry about her husband, but he finds out when he makes an unexpected visit to her home. Kay is attracted to Jerry but feels very attached and responsible for her husband David, despite the fact that even when he was around, he wasn’t really there for her. Jerry is a decent man, who seems to be living in another era, who insists on meeting and connecting with David and finds when he does that David may be generally discombobulated but has enough emotional awareness to recognize when someone is trying to take away someone important to him. Jerry urges Kay to put David in a nursing home, but she can’t bring herself to do it.
Through a series of brief flashbacks, Hogan depicts the progression of the disease. In a chance encounter with one of Kay’s students, Catherine (Caroline Aimetti), the audience learns that Kay had a daughter who died as an infant and because of David’s illness, she decided not to have any more children. The play takes an unexpected turn when David suddenly begins to recall things from his past and his short-term memory comes back as well, which is not an uncommon occurrence of the disease, before slipping back into his miasma with everyone in the household still attached by this disease that ravages the mind, body and soul of everyone surrounding the afflicted.
David’s caregiver Marie (a exceptionally compelling Mary Leggio) does what she can to make life easier for both Kay and David but, a widow who has turned her dead husband into a saint, she doesn’t approve of Kay’s romantic interest in Jerry or her desire for a more fulfilling life.
The play was very well acted and very moving thanks to subtle performances by all under Alan Souza’s sensitive direction.
The closing scene was especially devastating. David looks up and notices that the room he and Kay are standing in is cold, and she replies, with a total expression of despair on both her face and in her body, “It’s winter.”
I recommend this play highly but it you can’t get there this week-end, not to worry. You’ll be hearing about this play and the playwright Mickele Hogan again quite soon. She’s a young woman who really understands how people feel and function.
The final two performances of Mourning the Living are August 13 at 1 pm and August 14 at 6 PM at the Hudson Guild Theatre at 441 West. 26th Street in Chelsea.