Erica McClure and Andrew Stairs in Too Much, Too Much, Too Many.
Photo by Bill Brymer.
Too Much, Too Much, Too Many
By Meghan Kennedy
Directed by Lucas Adams
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Tragedy can change us; cause us to retreat behind walls both real and imaginary. In Meghan Kennedy’s Too Much, Too Much, Too Many, a mother and daughter have both removed themselves from the world after the death of husband and father, James.
The mother, Rose (Laurene Scalf), hasn’t left her room in months, not even speaking but listening through the door as her daughter, Emma (Erica McClure) describes the discovery of James’ body after he had drowned. It is a nightly ritual for them, and Emma’s words have become a sacrament of grief and guilt. Emma invites Pastor Hidge (Andrew Stairs) to visit in an attempt to draw Rose out, and he sits and reads through the door, and eventually the two play cards, but Pastor Hidge rightly judges that his mission is as much Emma as her mother. Emma almost never leaves the house, until the romantic attraction between her and the Pastor comes into play.
There are also intermittent flashbacks with James (Ryan Lash) that illustrate his colorful personality and the sad reality of his Alzheimer’s disease. The shifts in time happen naturally, and are fluidly staged, so that they become essential memories. James is not extraordinary, but a genial, loving figure whose humanity allows us to comprehend the magnitude of his family’s loss.
The walls are not physically depicted in the settings, but director Lucas Adams blocks the movement to clearly mark the boundaries that protect the two women. Emma takes care of Rose, trying to replicate her favorite baked goods but missing the key ingredients, which Rose sometimes slides under her door. It is one of the ways that Rose is also taking care of Emma; both are locked in, but reliant on each other as the one slender thread of purpose in their lives.
The play’s resolution gives greater insight into the importance of the notion of where such careful nurturing of grief might take us, with rueful grace notes of romance and nostalgia that keep the gloomy tone from overwhelming. Too Much, Too Much, Too Many threatens to be overbearing in its heavy emotions, but Kennedy keeps her text lean, economical, and focused, and this production clocks in at just over one hour.
The cast brings great sensitivity to these characters, and Erica McClure is given the big emotional outburst, which she carries off with discipline, yet what is more important, and arguably more difficult, are the quieter moments of patience and pain that truly define the delicate balance the two women have established in their relationship. Both McClure and Scalf render such moments with careful observation and deep understanding. Ryan Lash, who is considerably younger than his character, nevertheless gives James the gravity of a beloved paterfamilias, so that we immediately can define the nature of the hole that is left in Rose and Emma’s lives. Andrew Stairs makes Pastor Hidge the necessary conduit for the audience, but also nicely essays the conflict of the character that indicates his own sense of loss through tragedy. No one is exempt.
I suppose the stark production underplays some of the lyricism in Kennedy’s play, but it seems churlish to fault a spare take on material that explores such dark and universal themes. Death is inextricably linked to everyone’s experience, yet how we cope with it can be distinctly individual. If we may not all retire from life in the manner of Rose and Emma, we doubtless can still empathize with the desire to shelter our pain from the world.
Too Much, Too Much, Too Many
June 10, 11, 13, 17, 18 @ 8:00pm
June 19 @ 2:00pm
At the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.