REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Visiting Edna

A World Premiere.edna-5

By David Rabe.

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro.

At Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago.

Long, tedious mother-son relationship drama is a downer.

Its 1990 in a small Iowa town and Edna (Debra Monk) is a 78 year old women who has terminal cancer among her many ailments. Her son, Andrew (Ian Barford) is home for a visit since Edna is steadily deteriorating and hasn’t long to live. Their relationship is strange as Andrew, ever polite, refers to happier times when mother and young son had a fun relationship. Now they have a baffling relationship that simmers beneath the surface.

Slowly, with many long speeches by Edna reminiscing about past events particularly those involving Andrew, we get hints as to what is the angst Andrew feels toward Edna and his dead father. Communicating, searching for relevant connections and struggling to make peace as time depletes Edna’s life is the play’s focus. The early scenes quickly become tedious as we hear Edna ramble on and on.


Playwright David Rabe, somehow felt the need to move his realism into the surreal by having Sally Murphy play a TV set and have Tim Hooper play Edna’s Cancer. These two characters were much needed comic relief  with TV set being funny and Cancer being a cynical reminder to Edna.


Much of the action, mundane distractions of life keep Edna and Andrew from one last time finding a worthy connection. It is a difficult trick to make a drama about saying ‘goodbye’ to a parent who is terminally ill and sustain a two hour, forty minute play. Rabe adding those surreal elements with a wacky Angel of Death (Michael Rabe) dream sequence scene to shake thing us in act two.

Visiting Edna is a tough, disturbing play that is in search of an audience. Will younger audiences care about the ramblings of a dying old woman? Will seniors (like me), who are approaching Edna’s age want to sit through Edna’s memories and her polite stiff relationship with her son? Do we want to face our own mortality before we have too? I’m not sure.

Visiting Edna is too long and the surreal elements prove more of a distraction than essential elements. I’d advise a more focused tighter 80-85 minute one act with emphasis on Andrew and Edna connecting and facing the realities of Edna dying. As now presented, we see mother and son using distractions and everyday events to keep them from connecting.  The problem is that by the time things start to get resolved, we are so bored and we don’t care anymore because the mundane turned us off. The slow pace and the memory speeches just wore me out. Debra Monk did yeoman work as Edna.

Somewhat Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: September 27, 2016.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout the Visiting Edna page at

At Steppenwolf Theatre, `1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650,, tickets $20 – $89, Tuesday – Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at  3 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission,  through November 6, 2016.