The Los Angeles Theatre Center
Previews: September 9 - 22, 1989
Performances: September 23 - November 19, 1989
Cast / Artistic Staff & Crew / Press Notes
Reviews: LA Times / Daily News / LA Weekly
Ann Gee Byrd / Christine Murdock / Julianna McCarthy / Victoria Ann-Lewis
by Jo Carson
Directed by Steven Kent
Artistic Producing Director - Bill Bushnell
Artistic Producer - Diane White
Set and Lighting Design by Douglas D. Smith
Costume Design by Donna Barrier
Sound Design by Jon Gottlieb
Original Music by Michele Brourman
Stage Manager - Danny Lewin
Assistant Stage Manager - Christopher Krol
Light Board Operator - Richard Moore
Sound Operator - Galen Wade
Dresser - Kim Reiter
Recording Engineer - Mark Friedman
Second Engineers - Craig Brown, Brad Brinkman
Movement Consultant - Christopher Villa
Christine Murdock /
Ann Gee Byrd
Victoria Ann-Lewis - Narrator
Anne Gee Byrd - Irene/Ree
Julianna McCarthy - Rose
Christine Murdock - Pat
Victoria Ann-Lewis /
"Daytrips" is not linear: the continuity in it is emotional.
Single pieces tell stories, and the sum of the stories makes the experience. While the play is very hard in moments, it is also comic, the sort of comedy that speaks of survival. Pat (Christine Murdock) is a caregiver for her mother, Ree (Anne Gee Byrd), who is a victim of Alzheimer's disease. Before her illness, when she was still Irene, Ree used to help her mother, Rose (Julianna McCarthy): now, this too falls to Pat. In the play, Pat is divided into two people: one is stuck in the stories, and the other, Narrator Pat (Victoria Ann-Lewis), has the perspective to tell them.
The day trips of the title are the trips to serve Rose's
growing needs. The first goes back to Kyles Ford, Tennessee, where Irene was born. Rose reveals things on that trip that Pat has never known before and which establish a fear of men and strangers that has affected her whole life.
The second is a trip in which Pat is obliged to find Rose's pharmacist because, as Rose says, "that other man don't know me. How does he know what medicine I'm supposed to take?" The third trip begins with Ree trying to jump out of the car on the way to Rose's house and chronicles the growing difficulty of care giving.
The fourth begins with a trip to the emergency room for Rose and is, in fact, a trip through "the valley of the shadow of death" for everyone.
The play explores the relationships between these three women and a ghost or two, primarily the ghost of Helen, who was Rose's oldest daughter. Relationships between mothers and daughters are complicated, and there are several sets here. In the last set, Pat is responsible for them all.
'Daytrips' to the Rhythm of a Disease
Los Angeles Times Theater Critic
Yes there are rules about constructing a play. But the great rule--as Jo Carson clearly realizes in "Daytrips" at the Los Angeles Theatre Center--is to be true to the experience that inspired the play. Find your shape there and you will produce something original. "Daytrips" is just that. I can't remember a play with a more painful subject. Yet the subject is Looked at with composure and even humor, everything implied by a word we don't hear much these days; acceptance.
The subject is Alzheimer's disease, and the toll that it exacts on a family is not minimized. We see the daily effort of coaxing one's mother to put her arm into her sweater, meanwhile suffering a disjointed lecture from her about how you steal all her best outfits.
Months of that, and worse, and you are ready to murder her. "Daytrips" minces no words about this. In fact, its heroine has two problems on her hands, her mother and her grandmother, not so far gone in her confusion, but confused enough. And ornery as hell. If there were a way to put them both out of their misery, the granddaughter would do it.
Would she, though? The play leaves the question open. In fact, it leaves situation open. This is not a Disease-of-Week melodrama, building to a courtroom finale. It's a study of mothers and daughters, women who don't walk away from each other, no matter how little they may think of each other. "I'm all she's got" is a declaration of intent here, not a whine.
Carson has no idea what will happen to these three determined women. Her interest is to show what is happening between them now--the heavy stuff of the present emergency, plus the normal static between mothers and grown-up daughters, plus some ghastly business from the past (A real ghost: The play happens in the South.)
Rather than speeding from checkpoint to checkpoint, Carson lets her tale proceed in a circular way, sometimes doubling back to the past. There's always movement but there's no stress. The play has time for its people, as big-city plays don't always have.
Director Steven Kent understands its rhythm, and his actors find freedom within it: Julianna McCarthy does not play the grandmother as a cute old lady. She plays her as a tyrant-a force that has to be dealt with. She also lets us (but no one else) see the childish fear behind that force.
And she lets the grandmother be funny. But don't you dare laugh at her! It's a wonderful role, a role that Jessica Tandy is going to want to know about. (This play isn't going to stop at LATC) But the grandmother will never get more understanding than she gets from McCarthy.
Anne Gee Byrd has to be very alert as the mother, whose mind keeps flickering and sometimes connecting. Now she's a fractious animal; now she's the generous, funny woman that she used to be. Byrd makes her all of a piece, and therefore heartbreaking.
The daughter is played by two actresses, fittingly since she's got so much on her plate. Victoria Ann-Lewis takes care of the narrating duties, plus stepping in when a subsidiary character is invoked; and Christine Murdock does the heavy lifting, with as much humor as she can summon. Alzheimer victims can be funny. They are never fun.
We wonder about the daughter. Doesn't she have any private life? If we pay close attention, we learn that the daughter isn't actually the mother's primary care-giver, but is spelling her father, a character who may deserve more of a role in the story.
Even so, it's a strain. Why does she do it? Honor, maybe. But don't look for any speeches about that. Douglas D. Smith's set and lighting tell us that this is to be a fluid, intuitive kind of play, with no abstractions - a play about the dailyness of things. Those who have had to be care-givers will recognize "Daytrips" and those who haven't will get a sense of the fortitude required But it is not a play with a message. What you remember is its flow.
'DayTrips' transports audience
on moving journey
Jo Carson certainly knows how to tell a story. Hard stories about trying times and difficult situations. Stories about tough love, strained compassion and the resilience of relationships
That's just what she does in "DayTrips," now running in Theater Two at the Los Angeles Theater Center, a simple, graceful and poetic story of the "fragile flesh" of old age.
"DayTrips" works in a gentle, comically offhand manner, telling the wandering tale of the relationship between a daughter, mother and grandmother. Its breezy, lithe language and fluid storytelling style lulls you into a folksy rhythm.
Before you know it, you're living in the heart and soul of the play -- Irene (Anne Gee Byrd) is struggling with Alzheimer's disease, daughter and care giver Pat (Christine Murdock) grapples with the pain of seeing her mother slip away and the guilt over wanting her to die, and grandmother Rose (Julianna McCarthy), who feels she has lived beyond her years and has built stubborn rituals in order to survive.
The play has no real plot progression. It's more a watery memory work based around Irene and Pat's numerous day trips out to check on Rose. The title, of course, also refers to the mind trips both Rose and Irene take. The play does not slap the audience into taking a long, hard look at the ravages of advancing age. Rather, it's a very compassionate portrait of the fear of facing reality, and the terror of feeling it slip from your grasp. In a powerful central conceit the playwright has Pat attended to by a spry narrator (Victoria Ann-Lewis), who both explains the rituals of survival to the audience and works as a Gethsemane angel to Pat, turning a soft look to her when things are hard. We are assured the narrator is really Pat, so we understand that there is the hope of compassion for herself somewhere inside.
Byrd's portrait of an Alzheimer's victim is harrowingly real, especially for those who have seen the power of the disease. You'll recognize the quiet looks of panic that wash across her face when something familiar suddenly becomes terrifyingly unknown.
Byrd's exquisite performance never misses a beat, one moment raging and murky-faced, lost in gauzy retarded terrain, the next a face as clear and transparent as water.
Steven Kent's direction, although occasionally loose, has caught the fluid movement of the language by working on a curtained set where the ensemble can wander in and out as their minds take them.
Murdock's sense of ensemble is very good, but she sometimes looks uneasy with the movement between her scenes and the asides to the audience.
McCarthy offers the stony edges of someone who has survived many of life's abuses.
Ann-Lewis provides much of the energy of this show, moving in and out of the action
On Radio's All Things Considered, essayist Jo Carson's poignantly hooked stories of Appalachian folks and their folksy ways make for soothing segues to the sterner headlines of the day. On a stage, however, Carson's prosaic and vastly un dramatic sensibility looks like a director's nightmare. Ostensibly about a woman's tribulations in caring for her Alzheimer's afflicted mother, Carson's play is a talky tale, impossibly static and, worse, burdened by a straightforward sentimentality uncomfortably close to TV's disease-of-the-week subgenre. But if Carson isn't exactly a playwright, she is an intriguing intellect and, with the help of Steven Kent and the sheer craft of a gifted ensemble, scores here with a compelling reflection on mind, aging and the fragile underpinnings of identity. The title refers to the treks made by Pat (Christine Murdock) and her now feeble-minded mother Ree (Ann Gee-Byrd) to take grandmother Rose (Julianna McCarthy) on weekly grocery forays. The scenes come with the writerly comments of narrator Victoria Ann-Lewis who, as Pat in the present (as opposed to Murdock's Pat in the past) explicates both Ree's retreat into insensibility and Rose's permanent mental vacation in the distant past. Gee Byrd produces an outstanding portrait of panicked incomprehension and Douglas D. Smith's set and lights provide a tasteful and restrained counterpoint.
Last Updated 01/27/03