By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Late in the play “You Got Older” actor Jim Dachik makes a slight gesture to his neck. That’s where his character has had cancer surgery. The gesture is casual, just something this aging man would do. Yet the slight, silent movement speaks volumes.
The touch is freighted with concern about his health, and the desire to conceal that concern from his daughter, Mae (Kelly Dunn) who is seated at the breakfast table across from him. They’d already been through a lot, and it’s all packed in that simple gesture.
Clare Barron’s 2014 award-winning drama opens tonight (Thursday, Oct. 18) for a two weekend run in the Eva Marie Saint Theatre at Bowling Green State University. Click showtimes and tickets.
When the play opens, Mae has just arrived to spend some time with her father who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Mae is a 30-something woman at a critical point in her life. She was just dumped by her boyfriend who was also her boss so she also lost her job. She’s missing physical intimacy — she knows exactly how long it’s been since she’s had sex — but she’s also suffering from a severe rash on her back stretching to under her breasts.
She struggles to keep all this away from her father, who wants to know. They have the kind of relationship where a discussion of toothbrushes erupts into an argument.
He seems determined not to let the cancer weaken his involvement with his family. He’s torn between being resigned and defiant. This is captured in what he calls his cancer song, Regina Spektor’s “Firewood,” the song he listens to on the way to treatment. He has Mae listen to it. The song with its opening line “the piano is not firewood yet” and talk about rising “from your cold hospital bed” expresses what he cannot.
Alone in her older sister’s former room though never safe from a casual intrusion by her father, Mae has intense visions of a cowboy (Tyler Fugitt), who treats her as property and handles her roughly.
In real life, she goes out to the local bar and meets townie Mac (Adam Hensley), who both offers comfort, but is also kind of odd, at once sweet and creepy.
As Dad goes in for treatment, we meet Mae’s siblings — in-charge older sister Hannah (Hope Elizabeth Eiler), the lost in the muddle middle brother Matthew (Caleb Wise), and the needy younger sister Jenny (Missy Snyder).
The family dynamic plays out as they sit in their father’s hospital room sharing food Hannah has selected, mostly because of Jenny’s dietary restrictions. They have their problems, just like all families, but “You Got Older” does not trade in deep secrets suddenly revealed. The family’s discontents play out within a context of love.
Barron dares employ cell phones, technology that may date it in just a few years, as a device to connect the world to this family’s activities and used by individual members to disconnect from the immediate situation.
What they need, Matthew says, is a family dance party. That would mean a wedding. That seems unlikely to occur.
Directed by Sara Lipinski-Chambers, “You Got Older” makes us hope that maybe the family will get a chance to dance together, and maybe the father will be there to dance with them, and maybe Mae will have a lover to dance with her.
As the audience, we care about these questions because we forget that those are actors up there. That’s really us on the Eva Marie stage, our lives played out in different guises.