Williamston Theatre’s latest production, “The Safe House” is an intensely personal tale, a semi-autobiographical slice of director Kristine Thatcher’s life story. Also, it’s an archetypal scenario for many members of the boomer generation faced with the need to find a safe place for “Mee-maw”, Nana and other affectionate nicknames for mother. In this story, as in all the others, there are nuances, struggles, complexities and complications that make the transitional process to safety painful and difficult.
Bridget, an actress, visits Lansing to see her grandmother, Hannah, at a time when she is getting too few acting jobs.
Clearly, this is a long-standing, loving relationship. When Bridget discovers that her uncle and father think Hannah’s memory is slipping, they propose Hannah sell off the home she built with her husband years ago, and move into a nursing home. You know the place, Colonial Village, acres, meadows.
Karen Sheridan is Hannah, who came from Germany years ago in between the world wars and retains an accent. Sheridan is perfectly cast in this role, imbuing her character with charm and wit, with a deep sense of humor. She ends Act One with an homage to “Meet me in St. Louie, Louie,” a song and dance she did years ago in the bar she co-owned with her husband in downtown Lansing: Stober’s Bar.
When it comes to short-term memory loss, questions like “Did I take my insulin shot? Maybe I should take another just in case,” riddle Grandma Hannah’s life. Addressing the notion of leaving her home, she is understandably adamantly opposed.
Dani Cochrane is Bridget, retreating from a stalled career, divorcing a second husband who has been physically abusive. Bridget enjoys prompting Hannah to retell stories from her childhood, revealing that Grandma’s house used to be her safe haven from the harsh words of an abusive father.
The chemistry between these two fine actors makes the relationship seem real — much like the relationship one hopes to have with a grandmother.
Tobin Hissong is Uncle Mathius. He knows and understands his aging mother. He connects with her on a daily basis, and has multiple anecdotes to tell of her mind lapses — a time when she almost burned the house down, another time when she fell in her garden.
Hissong plays a role many have played, the loving son who is first to recognize that an elder can no longer live entirely by herself. As Mathius, Hissong brings a tenderness to the challenge of dancing through tough love, trying to bridge the gap between his mother’s adamant refusal to consider leaving her home and his favorite niece’s determination to support the wishes of grandmother she loves.
The three characters together enact this familiar scenario with great skill and authenticity.
How it resolves? Suffice it to say that clarity and resolution must be understood from the multiplicity of perspectives represented in this play. One must see the play and ponder. Where do I stand on this issue?
Thursday, Oct. 17 – Sunday, Nov. 3 8 p.m.
$28-33, $10 students, discounts available for military and seniors
Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston
(517) 655-7469 www.williamstontheatre.org