by Shirley Lorraine
Coping and Compassion Help Heal
Getting older is not for sissies. Unfortunately, aging happens, if we’re lucky. When it does, often the entire family is pulled in to its sphere. Author Kate Hawley’s “Complications from a Fall” now playing at the Santa Paula Theatre Center recognizes and celebrates the trials, challenges and efforts required for families to weather the aging of loved ones.
The catalyst is Elizabeth, an older woman who has some dementia and is currently recovering from a recent fall. Nothing was broken, but the body doesn’t work as well as it used to. As a result, her daughter Helen has moved in to care for Elizabeth full time. Being a caregiver is hard work. Helen desperately needs a break.
She is slated to present a paper at a conference out of state, so she enlists the assistance of her brother Teddy. Teddy is not at all familiar with nor comfortable in taking on the role. It’s complicated. It’s uncomfortable. It’s outside his circle of knowledge.
Elizabeth has been relying not only on Helen, but also on Lucy, a hired caregiver whom Helen has recently fired for allegedly stealing from Elizabeth. Teddy calls on Lucy to bail him out when he doesn’t know how to cope with mother. Through these three tough days, Teddy learns a lot about realities of aging, dealing with dementia, and his own capabilities.
Helen checks in frequently with Teddy as she worries about his ability to cope with the situation while she gets a much-needed respite from it all.
Directed by Taylor Kasch, Jill Dolan as Elizabeth, Cynthia Killion as Helen, Sean Love Mason as Teddy and Julie Fergus as Lucy form a tight family unit which highlights the difficulties of their tasks.
The play, like real life, has moments of hilarity and moments that tug at our heartstrings. No doubt the author pulled from her own experiences to capture the coping mechanisms and subtleties so well. Dealing with dementia requires more patience than many realize – until they are faced with a loved one’s confusion, repetition and altered state of reality. The person is still there, they’re simply on a different mental stratum where logic and reason do not reside.
As a caregiver myself, I found the subject matter all too familiar. I recognized the humor, the pathos and the underlying sadness in seeing a loved one decline. Others in the audience did too. It’s a challenging subject to depict, one that many of my generation are learning to cope with and to accept.
If you aren’t faced with this yet, the play will offer valuable insights you can use later. If you’ve already been there or are there now, you will find it validating. I do feel the ending was a bit abrupt as the loose ends in the story were tied up quickly and no epilogue was offered. I’d love to see the play again with an additional scene to soften the rapid wrap-up. And life continues.
Complications from a Fall continues through May 19. Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $24, seniors and students $22, children $18. Subscription packages also available. www.santapaulatheatercenter.org, 805-525-4645.