Blues for One
There’s a fair amount of booze, only two balls, and very little bluegrass in Booze, Balls and Bluegrass: A Daughter’s Journey. But there’s a lot of Laura Carson.
Carson’s autobiographical one-woman show wedges into the crowded territory of single, middle-aged actors whose stalled careers coincide with their parents’ mortality. Carson leaves her temp job in Los Angeles to live with her widowed, alcoholic father in Atlanta, to regroup and to help him out in a limited capacity. He gives her 1500 dollars a month to keep house.
But her father has always tried to control her with money, even when she didn’t need it over the years, which was sometimes. They don’t agree on everything. And though he’s a fairly mild drunk with a good sense of humor, Carson’s nervous that living with him won’t be perfect for her. It’s true: she has to cook and clean. But she draws the line at fetching his drinks.
She’s not happy. She sits around nursing wine and M&Ms. Her father gets sick and has to quit drinking. Then he gets sicker. She has to actually take care of him. Things aren’t working out for her. At one point she has to perform an act of intimate care for her father, and the moment isn’t pleasant.
After that she puts him in a home. As they will for old people, the last few years of his life seem like just a series of inconvenient diseases. At some point, Carson’s going to have to get her own life together. And in his declining condition now, her father’s not really of any use to anyone, or to himself as far as she can see. She is asked to consider signing a Do Not Resuscitate form; and when she thinks about it, he always lectured her a lot, sometimes while giving her money. She didn’t always want the lecture, or even the money. So she signs the order not to resuscitate in case of traumatic illness.
But now she has to sell his house, and since she’s not living with him she has to get a job, and waiting tables is not a creative or fulfilling occupation. She moves back west, spends a lot of time crying, and does some theater. Occasionally she takes calls from her father’s care facility about his fading health, until finally he falls into a coma. Standing by his deathbed, she tells him repeatedly that it’s okay to let go. He takes a while, but he goes. Carson is relieved. She’s stronger now.
The autobiographical monologue is a field mined with potentially explosive dramatic irony.
The question of motive must be answered first: for whom am I telling this story? Is there an inherent singularity to my story, a draw, a source of surprise, tension, suspense, revelation?
If I am telling my story for therapeutic reasons or for personal growth, that doesn’t automatically mean it shouldn’t be staged. But it does raise a second question: is it still universal? What illumination of the human struggle does my story provide? Does this show supply a novel lesson, a valuable moral? Is my show a key to understanding the universe, even in a very small way?
A third question, perhaps the most crucial: what skills and talents must I bring to bear on this story to ensure that it lands, resonates, performs a valuable service for everyone fortunate enough to see it? Have I honed the necessary abilities – is my experience and training sufficient to instigate and mount a production people will pay for with money, time and faith?
Not just the creative team but the audience is going to have to answer these questions, so their importance cannot be overstated.
Carson delivers this hour-long speech from her two feet, from her knees, and from a chair. She sometimes acts out a few seconds of her story: old people look feeble; nurses look smug; doctors look harried. She uses projected Facebook status updates from the period (“sigh”), a few LP album covers, and a jug of whiskey for decoration. She show-and-tells an illustrated story she wrote when she was a child. She makes jokes.
If director Michael Kass hasn’t given her much to do physically, he has given her (uncredited) lighting design that delineates and occasionally heightens moments; a very good, if spare, sound design by Mark McClain Wilson; and those Facebook posts, projected by Dan Via.
The night I saw the show, some of the audience laughed and sighed sympathetically. Some did not. Some followed her journey with what appeared genuine empathy. Some found the show repellent and self-deluding.
If you haven’t seen enough Americans talk about struggling to take care of their dying parents, you may see this show and then decide whether you think it warrants fifteen dollars and sixty minutes of your time. Because as an audience, you too have a job to do. Especially at an all-comers venue like the Hollywood Fringe Festival, you have the job of curating your schedule.
Booze, Balls and Bluegrass plays:
Saturday June 20 at 7 p.m.
Sunday June 21 at 1 p.m.
Saturday June 27 at 8:30 p.m.
at the Elephant Studio, 1078 Lillian Way in Hollywood
for tickets, visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2322?tab=details