The Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company at the 10th Avenue Theatre is not afraid to produce plays that deal with sensitive issues. Last year, they presented shows that focused on racism, a mass shooting and victims of Khmer Rouge. Not exactly the ingredients for feel good entertainment. The company is once again taking a gamble with a comedy/drama about dementia called Milvotchkee, Visconsin.
Molly (Linda Libby) is a docent at Wisconsin Concrete Park. She has frequent visions of her dead husband, Richard (David Poirier). After getting “hit by lighting” and meeting with a country doctor (Jacob Bruce), it is obvious that Molly has the beginning stages of dementia. While she tries to continue to live a normal existence, her condition quickly worsens.
Laura Jacqmin’s offbeat script does not depict events in a realistic fashion. The entire story seems to be happening in Molly’s mind and features narration, fantasy sequences and unusual characters. Her writing can be strange, but it is also full of funny and gut-wrenching dialogue that does not sugarcoat Molly’s disease.
While many of the jokes work, there are a couple of times where certain sequences feel like they are out of a random “Saturday Night Live” sketch. These moments are brief enough to not affect the overall production, but the broad scenes can be distracting.
The direction by Robert Barry Fleming matches the fast pace of Jacqmin’s dialogue. He seems to have no trouble handling the many contrasting tones throughout the piece.
David F. Weiner’s scenic design incorporates an offbeat recreation of the concrete park. It makes audience members feel immediately transported to the world of the psychological dramedy.
Joe Huppert’s original music adds to the emotional impact with his exquisite recorded piano playing. The melancholy theme he composed is simple, yet deep and beautiful.
Huppert also is responsible for the sound design. The audio features sound effects that are occasionally cartoony though it can be quite intense as Molly’s dementia becomes more severe.
Jeannie Galioto’s costume design is primarily comprised of clothes that are unflashy to reflect reality. They fit the personalities of the people in Molly’s mid-western world quite nicely.
Jason Bieber’s lighting design is mostly sunny in showcasing the landscape. The lighting does sometime become dimmer and more chilling during some of the darker moments.
Libby is on a bit of a roll after winning the Craig Noel San Diego Critics Circle Actor of the Year 2013 Award. She gives a brave performance as a woman trying everything she can to survive despite her diagnosis.
With her expressive eyes, commanding voice and animated personality, it is tough to watch Libby completely transform from a strong woman to a physically and mentally weak individual. Her deterioration is emotionally moving and impactful to those in the intimate theatre.
Poirier has plenty of warmth and an amiable presence as Molly’s late husband, Richard. He makes Richard seem like a man who is deeply in love with his wife, and tries to keep her calm, regardless of her dire situation.
Maggie Carney, Greg Watanabe, Olivia Espinosa and Bruce get to play several bizarre and funny roles. Most of their parts are played for comic relief, though they do have some juicy dramatic moments as well.
While the subject of Milvotchkee, Visconsin, and the trippy vibe on stage, might keep it from connecting with a large audience, I encourage viewers to give the work a chance, because of the humane way Jacqmin deals with dementia.
Hopeful without being saccharine, Milvotchkee, Visconsin is a gripping and powerfully acted statement about embracing life, even when things are grim. The West Coast Premiere is another provocative and thought provoking achievement for Mo’olelo.
[box] Milvotchkee, Visconsin plays at The 10th Avenue Theatre Sundays at 2, Wednesdays at 8, Thursdays at 8, Fridays at 8, and Saturdays at 8. Tickets ($22-$30) are available at the Mo’olelo website or by calling 619-342-7395. Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.