Peninsula's "Tin Woman" tugs the heartstrings but needs more heart
Almost dying and then getting a heart transplant at the last moment comes with all kinds of problems and challenges, both emotional and physical.
It's a dramatic event in the life of the recipient and in the lives of the family of the donor. It's so dramatic that the awesome Peninsula Players opened its 79th season with the world premiere of the dramatic tale that makes up "The Tin Woman," written by Sean Grennan.
The experience of seeing a play at the stunning theater in Door County, only feet from the waters of Green Bay, is virtually unmatched in Wisconsin. It's a full equity theater with outstanding actors, directors, designers and the rest of the parts necessary to stage world class productions.
It almost seems unworthy to open the season with a play that seems like a Hallmark movie: a death, a life saved, a blusterer, a nut or two and a happy, tearful ending.
Don't get this wrong. There are some very funny moments in this play, and there are touching moments. The sobs from the audience in the final few minutes were almost loud enough to drown out the actors.
It's just that a company this good and this professional and this wonderful in this spectacular setting is a little underwhelmed by this play, especially in a season that includes works by Agatha Christie and Charles Ludlam. This play seems a bit shy of the level that belongs here.
There was nothing unexpected that happened, despite imaginative direction and set design by Sarah E. Ross, who created a delightful menage with a perfect use of a variety of scrims.
The entire cast was outstanding, and the performances from two women – Erin Noel Grennan who plays Joy, the heart recipient, and Kristine Thatcher who plays Alice, the mother of Jack, who died in a car crash and donated the heart – were outstanding.
Grennan has the kind of dispirited and uncertain mein of a young woman who almost died and then was saved by the heart from someone she thinks she wants to know about. She has a mixture of vulnerability and determination that fits the part to perfection.
Thatcher's Alice is just about the only character in entire play who seems to have her feet on the ground. While everyone and everything around her is whirling out of control, she is determined to deal with her sadness and keep life in some kind of order. While full of emotion, there is a steel about Alice that proves that even great tragedy can be weathered by a circle of love.
One of the most challenging tasks for any playwright is to create characters we can believe. Joel Hatch, who played Hank, the father of the donor and Erica Elam, who played his sister, were just drawn too one-note to be convincing.
Nobody – and I mean nobody – can remain so angry at every single thing for so long after a tragedy strikes as Hatch had to do. Flying off the handle was his way of life, and it was a constant month after month. There was a moment in the play when they gave away the fact that Hank would become an old sweetie by play's end, a moment the play could well have done without.
Meanwhile, Elam's crazed Sunny, while funny, was also too single level. There didn't seem to be any depth to this character. By midway through the second act, I grew tired of her near constant crying and wanted to shout, "Get over it already."
The story of this play is relatively simple.
Joy gets Jack's heart. She sends a note to Jack's family., Hank doesn't even want to hear a mention of Joy's name, much less have her over for dinner. But she shows up, and they all struggle and eventually visit Jack's grave. It is at that point where an ending that stretches the bounds of credulity well beyond their limit rears its head.
Grennan has a way with words and a wonderful comic touch. But when dramatic moments show up, they tend to lean toward the stuff of every Hallmark movie you've ever seen.
Having said that, the crowd of about 600 stood and cheered at the curtain. Perhaps they were cheering because they could hardly stop crying after having every page in the book on tear-jerking thrown their way.
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