'Joe Egg': The unbearable pain of carrying on

Lindsay Marcy and Randy Schmeling.
Lindsay Marcy and Randy Schmeling.
Photo by Megan Engeseth Photography
The sheer amount of theater in the Twin Cities makes it nearly impossible to catch everything. Sometimes, this means just passing on an intriguing piece with a promise to catch the new work by the company, or it means taking it in a bit late. That has its own problems, as a lot of runs are only two or three weeks.

So, if you decide to take in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg -- and there are plenty of rewards for those who do -- be warned that you only have three more chances this weekend to see the production from Public Dreams Theatre.

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Peter Nichols's play is a rough ride, often savagely funny and penetrating as it examines the lives of a British couple and their severely disabled child. While set less than half a century in the past, the attitudes towards people with disabilities -- not just from everyday folks, but doctors and other professionals -- are in the dark ages. 

At the center of this are Bri and Sheila, the youngish couple of Joe, a 10-year-old girl who has no real interaction or awareness of the outside world. The pair copes as best they can. Bri retreats into biting humor and dark fantasies about ending their daughter's life. Shelia goes the opposite, insisting on keeping their daughter at home and filling the space with a menagerie of plants and animals. 

That tectonic friction becomes more heated as outsiders enter the frame, in form of Freddie and Pam, a pair of sort-of friends who have never visited the home before. The two are insufferable, especially loud-mouthed Freddie, the factory-owning socialist. Then again, Pam does espouse views of folks who don't look "normal" that would have pleased Hitler to no end.

All the while, the characters break the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly about their beliefs and experiences. I'm sure this was a far more radical approach when the play premiered in 1967, but it's pretty old hat by now. Some of these moments carry a lot of power -- the ones that Bri and Sheila do together are particularly impressive -- but others just are a drag on the action. By the time Bri's mother enters the picture and steps aside for her moment in the spotlight, I really just wanted the story on the day in question, not everyone's thoughts about life.

To his credit, Nichols doesn't offer easy answers to the questions, and he doesn't take sides. Bri and Sheila are flawed people whose cracks have been exacerbated by the last decade of caring for their daughter. 

The company is good, led by strong performances by Randy Schmeling and Mary Fox as Bri and Sheila. Dawn Brodey is particularly nasty as the cold and brittle Pam, while Nathan Tylutki makes us hate Freddie from nearly the first moment he is on stage -- an appropriate response I think.

The script threatens to trip up the company and director Benjamin Kutschied, but the rewards of the performances and the thought-provoking material help overcome those flaws.


A Day in the Death of Joe Egg
Red Eye Theater
14 W. 15th St., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
For tickets and information, call 612-643-1503 or visit online
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Red Eye Theater

15 W. 14th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403



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