By Peter Nichols
Directed by Greg Werstler
Produced by Stage left Theatre
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Tour de force performance from Vance Smith saves A Day in the Death of Joe Egg
Peter Nichols’ 1967 dark comedy, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, is a highly theatrical, wordy, often hilarious while filled awkward moments. This very British work is over written as it moves from a series of lengthy direct address (to the audience) monologues to long expositions to the use of bad jokes. This is Sheila (Kendra Thulin) and her husband Brian’s (Vance Smith) cooping method to deal with their severely disabled ten year old daughter, Joe (Piper Bailey). She can’t communicate and can’t do anything on her own.
Sheila cares for her daily while Brian teaches middle school. To cope, the parents talk to and makes jokes with and about Joe. We see how ten years of such a burden can dilute a marriage. Brian retreats into long diatribes filled with sarcasm and dark humor. often, the players move to the edge of the set with the lights up, talk directly to the audience, breaking the fourth wall. Brian feels the need to explain and rationalize much of his actions and desires. Sheila answers his comments from her point of view. This quickly becomes tedious.
The play’s action comes to a complete halt when Brian and Sheila enact all the events as how Joe came into the world handicapped and what the couple did to try to get something done to help little Joe. In this series of enacted events, Vance Smith deftly and quite comically impersonated fastidious British doctors as well as a goofy German doctor. Smith demonstrated his versatile acting skills. His part is extremely over written but in Vance Smith’s hands Brian becomes a most impressive fellow. You’d be hard pressed to see a stronger acting performance. Smith makes his verbose character tolerable.
I did have problems with the length of the work. Too many monologues and too long a second act as things got bogged down when Grace (Marssie Mencotti), Brian’s mother arrived just as Freddie (Brian Plocharczyk) and his intolerant wife Pam (Annie Prichard) wer concluding their visit to Brian and Sheila’s home.
While I appreciated the wit and the arguments concerning the problems of in home child care for a severely disabled child, I think the ;piece needs to be trimmed of some of the British tendency to over write their plays. This work is like the guest who comes to dinner and stays beyond all expectations. Nichols’ play stays past it’s welcome.
What makes this play worth seeing is the fabulous performance from Vance Smith. Add fine turns by Kendra Thulin and the disciplined work from young Piper Bailey, as the disabled child and Joe Egg becomes a show worth your time and money.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 14, 2013
For more info checkout the A Day in the Death of Joe Egg page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, www.stagelefttheatre.com tickets $20 – $27, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through February 16, 2014