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Death becomes her: Refreshing, insightful Vesta
Death becomes her: Refreshing, insightful Vesta
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

VESTA
WRITTEN BY BRYAN HARNETIAUX
DIRECTED BY ALLEN FITZPATRICK
STARRING MEGAN COLE
VESTRON THEATRICALS AT CAPITOL HILL ARTS CENTER
FREE, $20 SUGGESTED DONATION
THROUGH FEBRUARY 3


Bryan Harnetiaux has crafted an insightful and delicate play dealing with life's inevitable end. Many of us don't want to think about the end of our lives, plan for it, deal with it, but even so, it will catch us, anyway.

Vesta Pierson is a vibrant, intelligent, feisty and headstrong woman who is getting older and has a "mild" stroke. This signifies an inevitable decline over a period of years. Her rage at the limitations of movement and how others start co-opting her ability to choose where she lives and what she does during her days is palpable. Megan Cole, in the main role, is the heart and center of the strength of the show.

This is a minimalist production with almost no set or costumes and, in CHAC's lower theater space - not even a backstage area. It would be so nice to see a more visually appealing staging, but the words and the acting overcome this limitation. Anyone who has had a close relative die, or who is dealing with a relative declining, will be able to identify with the frustrations of selling property, spending "down" the available money until Medicaid takes over, when Medicare can and cannot pay for a hospital stay, all catching this family pretty off-guard.

Vesta's daughter Carol (Cynthia Whalen) has a tough time coping with such a headstrong mother and their relationship hasn't been the best. How many of us can see ourselves in that situation? Vesta doesn't like Carol's husband Jack (Anders Bolang) and somehow he still hangs in there tolerating her dislike. Granddaughter Kelly (Brittni Reinertsen) tries to figure out how to talk to a declining grandmother, not very successfully.

A key character visiting Vesta frequently is Marc (Brian Ibsen), a social worker type who is assigned to help Vesta recover from her mild stroke. He's a friendly, encouraging guy who has experience with irascible older patients who aren't ready to admit that their lives have changed forever. Ibsen does a neat turn, creating a friendship, but regretfully withdrawing when circumstances change.

Harnetiaux really gets it right. This is noted as the first professional presentation of this play, and it certainly should not be its last. He creates a tender portrait of this struggling family, and brings in many issues that confront us all in this modern society. In short, sharp scenes, he quickly shows the strained relationships and ironic realities, without having characters say much at all. Vesta herself doesn't do what's expected of her. That's refreshing and steers clear of stereotype.

Harnetiaux, a playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre, has several plays circulating among community theaters and educational venues. This play will likely have a long life, used as a presentation that opens up topics that end-of-life educators want their audiences to learn about and discuss. It's not playing long, so quickly get out your calendar and pick a date to see it.

Tickets are free and a suggested donation of $20 can be made at the door on the day of the performance. Advance reservations: call (206) 261-5064. Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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