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Joined at the Head
a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY :
by Catherine Butterfield

COMPANY : Polk Street Players [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Stellar Cellar
ID# 3848

SHOWING : November 05, 2010 - November 20, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Maggie Mulroney is on a promotional tour for her novel JOINED AT THE HEAD when she gets an invitation to visit with her old high school flame, Jim, and his wife (also named Maggy) who is dying of cancer. The two women strike up an immediate friendship notwithstanding the total disparity in their characters: Maggie the novelist is intensely self-examining and analytical while Maggy, even in the throes of her illness, retains a warm and giving response to the world and others.


CAST & CREW LIST
Producer Pete Borden
Director Carolyn Choe
Stage Manager Joanna Averch
Costume Design Ruta Wilk
Ensemble Kirsten Benson
Jim Burroughs Richard Blair
Ensemble Tony Bowers
Ensemble Barry KING
Raymond Terwilliger Barry KING
Maggy Burroughs Barbara Joanne Rudy
Maggie Mulroney Stacy Vaccaro
Ensemble Rene' Voige
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REVIEWS

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Making it Personal
by Dedalus
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
NR
Bias Disclaimer: I will not grade this production, because my lovely and talented spouse is playing a leading role, and my good friend Carolyn Choe directed it.

Ever since I started documenting my theatre-goings, I have endeavored to create a personal critical aesthetic, a sorta-kinda autobiographical paradigm that takes into consideration my own history and expectations as a root source of critical response. As a non-professional writer, I can indulge the importance of how “who-I-am” affects “how-I-like-it,” and often wish more professional writers would do the same.

For Catherine Butterfield’s “Joined at the Head,” currently on view at Polk Street Players’ “Stellar Cellar,” my own biases become the only standard by which to judge, or at least, by which to comment. Three factors have led to this conclusion: It’s a play I’ve loved for over ten years, and from which I’ve drawn one of my favorite audition monologues. It concerns how cancer affects a marriage and a friendship, and, earlier this year, I lost one of my dearest friends to cancer. And, it features Barbara Rudy, who happens to be my wife, in a leading role. After a brief summary, I’ll contain my comments to those three factors.

Maggie Mulroney (Stacy Vaccaro) is a writer on a promotional tour in Boston. She hears from an old high school flame, Jim Burroughs (Richard Blair), who invites her to dinner. There, she meets Jim’s wife, Maggy (Barbara Rudy), who is, not incidentally, battling terminal cancer. Maggie and Maggy become fast friends, and through Maggy’s struggle, Maggie begins to come to terms with her own father’s death from cancer. An ensemble comprised of Rene Voige, Kirsten Benson, Tony Bowers, and Barry King play a host of other characters who touch upon the main plotline, but this is primarily the story of Maggie and Jim and Maggy.

One of the things that first attracted me to this script was its constant surprise. These characters defy our expectations, striking friendships where none should exist, confessing depths of feeling and despair when all we’ve seen is high optimism and good spirits, revealing snarky sides that appeal to snarky grandstand fool-osophers like myself. And the structure is also appealing. It’s mostly told to us by Maggie in standard break-the-fourth-wall narrations, but Maggy isn’t afraid to interrupt her and correct her version of events. Occasionally, we even see things that never happened, but were only thought to happen. And it ends with a tear-inducing denouement that is inevitable and expected, but adds a gentle coda that ties all Ms. Butterfield’s themes together in a way that is both satisfyingly complete, and appealingly open-ended.

As to Jim’s monologue, I still like it and use it because it covers a wide range of self-descriptive emotions (“Here’s what you won’t hear from them about me”) that may or may not be true. Each segment is slightly schizophrenic – there is a distinct disconnect between what Jim is saying he feels and what he actually feels. And, because of its timeless themes, it is appropriate no matter how old I get.

As to my second point, its focus on cancer and how it affects families, I can’t help but react. My friend (who, incidentally, was my “Best Man” at our wedding) began her own struggle with cancer about the same time I first read this play, so I was still in a slight state of shock at her unhopeful prognosis, making the story hit me with a too-close-for-comfort strength. Her later remissions and ultimate submission makes this a VERY personal story for me, one I cannot watch with any semblance of objectivity. I had similar reactions to similarly themed plays of recent years, most notably 7 Stage’s “My Left Breast” and Synchronicity’s “Looking for the Pony.”

And, what ultimately kills any unbiased response is seeing my own dear wife in Maggy’s role, seeing her nail perfectly the bandana’d and pale look (She even shaved her eyebrows for the role), agonizing through a long close-to-the end scene in which the chemo has drained her of all vitality. True, I believe this is Barbara’s best work since “Children of a Lesser God,” but how can any sane person honestly judge, when it’s his wife on stage dying for all the world to watch, showing what our friend Cathryn went through about this time last year? Did I believe I was watching Barbara or did I believe she was Maggy? Truth to tell, I don’t think it matters. Needless to say, the scene and the entire production played with all my emotional buttons and hit me with the impact of a pile driver.

So, for all these reasons, I will not presume to judge the quality of the performances or the production, or to predict if any one not personally touched by cancer will appreciate this play. (Is there anyone who hasn’t been personally touched by cancer?) I can say that I grumbled at the typical Polk Street low-rent tech problems, but I liked the wide range of characterizations by the ensemble (Mr. King’s pretentious TV interviewer was a special favorite), and I liked how director Carolyn Choe put the whole thing together on the postage-stamp of a stage.

I can say that I HOPE you get to see it and that it moves you as much as it moved me.

I can say that I took this play very personally, so my comments about it will of necessity reflect that bias.

And, I can say that I will not apologize for that bias.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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