The 5 & Dime, Jacksonville’s downtown theatre company, opened its first play of 2018 with “The Walls,” by Lisa Dillman. The production opened on February 16th and will remain on stage through March 4th.
Playwright Dillman has written several plays; this is the first performed in Jacksonville. The 5 & Dime’s staging is the second production of this play, which debuted in 2009 at Ms. Dillman’s homebase, the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago. The play’s title refers to the walls around people with mental illness; sometimes it’s possible to break down the walls, often it’s not.
The play has two stories than run parallel to each other. The central character is Carrie Beliveau, portrayed by Kat McLeod Raspa. Carrie is researching the lives of three women confined in mental institutions during different time periods: the 1880’s, the 1920’s and the contemporary past. Additionally, she becomes involved with Lucy (Kate McManus), a waitress of her own age, who becomes a participant in her study.
Carrie’s mother Virginia is another too close for comfort subject. Virginia’s disorderly life is related to manifestations of bipolar disorder, and is brilliantly played by Sinda Nichols.
Alice Chudmann, played by Lindsay Curry, is irrational, easily angered, and physically threatening to family members, who include her despairing husband Vance (Joshua Kreis McTiernan) and her daughter Tabitha (Kristin Alexander).
Actress Sadie Akers is Jane Eloise Yaeger, a young institutionalized woman, who appears fragile and withdrawn, and prefers remaining in an asylum to returning to her family. A physician (Ricky Watson) diagnoses her problem as “laziness.” Watson also has several other appearances in minor roles.
“The Walls” powerfully illustrates the damaging effect of mental illness on the lives of victims and their families. These problems persist today, but were far worse prior to the 1950’s, when medications to treat psychosis and depression offered new hope to many.
The intimate seating of the 5 & Dime Theatre makes members of the audience very much a part of the play. The front of the stage has a single bed on either side. Carrie’s desk, where she works on research documentation, is in the center. Furniture pieces are moved on and off by the stage crew at times. And the background is astonishing, with multiple screens depicting a fantasy world in watercolors.
This thought-provoking play has an outstanding cast and the acting is superb. Bradley Akers, who directed the highly acclaimed “‘night Mother“ on this stage, has added another gem to his growing list of directorial achievements. Perhaps we can best describe this play with words by Mr. Akers from the Director’s Notes: “This is a complex piece – it twists and turns, pushes and pulls, rips and mends. It is raw. It is unflinchingly honest.”
The production team includes: Bradley Akers (Director); Katie Cress (Stage Manager); Tom Fallon (Set Design); Franks Sanabria and Jennifer Peek (Scenic Painting); Jim Wiggins (Lighting Design); Lee Hamby, Tracy Olin, and Cast (Costumes).
“The Walls” offers a unique theatre experience for the local theatre scene, where we find entertaining fare more often than thought-provoking drama. For additional information and reservations, visit the5anddime.org.