Karole Spangler & Trina Fischer in The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep. Photo: Looking for Lilith
The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep
By Diana Grisanti
Directed by Shannon Woolley Allison
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Sleeplessness is something we can all relate to, and The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep opens with a wonderful comic montage of Ada (Trina Fischer) struggling with insomnia. Up, down, tossing, turning, collapsing to the floor like a cartoon. Trina Fischer’s performance as Ada begins with an engaging slapstick grace that barely hints at where this character will take us before the play is over.
But playwright Diana Grisanti isn’t really concerned with insomnia, but the particular struggles besetting Ada that are at the root of her wakefulness. She is stuck in a customer service call center for a large real estate management company one year after being “invited” to leave school because she lodged a sexual harassment complaint against a noted male professor (Sean Childress). His unwelcome advances were not towards her but her close friend Emily (Laura Ellis), yet she is the one who is more outraged and takes action. That self-righteous drive to do what is right seems to get the very core of Ada.
A study of a character who is somewhat isolated presents a challenge in dramatic structure, but Grisanti has Ada read a self-help book by Dr. Carol Newbauer (Karole Spangler) and then makes the imposing figure an onstage reality, even if it is as a figment of Ada’s sleep-deprived imagination. Karole Spangler gives the character a wonderfully glib, self-satisfied quality and charismatic enough to make sense of Ada’s devotion. Newbauer pushes Ada to take action and quit her job, but not before she makes a move on Jake (Ke’leb Beauchamp), an engaging but less experienced coworker.
But something has happened to trigger Ada’s more immediate crisis, and it involves a tenant in one of the company’s properties, Nikki (the indispensable and empathetic Laura Ellis again), and her relationship with an abusive man, Tripp (Sean Childress again). I will leave it at that in terms of synopsis, but here is where the levity gives way to gravitas, and the play, written before the more recent rise in awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment, examines such behavior in two contrasting scenarios that illustrate the subtlety and nuance of the power in patriarchy. Sean Childress plays these scenes with impressive skill, giving Phillip an unctuous charm and Tripp a hulking, insinuating quality of physical intimidation without ever pushing for effect.
Grisanti doesn’t stop at the comparatively easy examples of these two male characters though. In a lengthy flashback to the meetings during which it is suggested that Ada leave school because she has put an important male academics reputation at risk, the argument for why Ada is the problem and not Phillip is made by a woman, Dean Dunlop. Ebony Jordan gives the Dean a slightly menacing authority that is a nice contrast to the humor she finds in Ada’s call center supervisor, Schwann. The multiple roles for all the cast, save for Trina Fischer, makes Grisanti’s play an opportunity for performances that showcase the skill and range of the players.
Grisanti weaves and balances the pathos and humor with dexterity, and gives a light touch to her more meaningful scenes that invite the audience to think harder and not give in to easy assumptions. The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep has quite a lot to say without ever being preachy.
The set, by Jil Marie Schierbaum, evokes the off-kilter reality of Ada’s plight with playful, almost surrealist props and design. Ada’s compact, child-size bed, a small desk, and what appeared to be an oversize set of headphones all frame a round projection in the center that is used with economy but remains a crucial presence. Typh Hainer Meriwarth’s costumes communicate character and circumstance succinctly.
Ada is the driving engine of the play, and Trina Fischer occupies the role with a desperation that anchors the production. Director Shannon Woolley Allison has shaped the production with care for tone and performance, but there is a great burden on the central role, and Ms. Fischer is as good as I have ever seen her here, an inherently sympathetic presence that allows the audience to see past her flaws and embrace her deeply compassionate demand for justice.
The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep
March 15, 16, 17, 19, 22, 23, & 24 at 7:30pm
March 24th at 2:00pm
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company
MeX Theatre, Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
For reservations, call the Kentucky Center for the Arts Box Office at 502-584-7777 or 1-800-775-7777 or go to www.kentuckycenter.org.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. 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.