“Woody’s Order!” is a wonderfully frenetic invocation of the rapture and responsibility of a unique love. The script may lack certain signposts of structure, but as an authentic suite of memories boldly given life, Ann Talman’s one-woman show successfully calls up the spirit of the powerful story she tries, in her own words, not to tell, but to do.
. . .successfully calls up the spirit of the powerful story. . .
Centered on Talman’s relationship with her brother Woody, wheelchair bound and unable to speak due to his cerebral palsy, the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s production of “Woody’s Order!” is an invitation to duck the increasingly opaque sharing we produce every day and share in something real – the life of a woman driven by love, even from her youngest days, to give voice to her brother – and to eventually take on the mantle of responsibility for him – a role her family enshrined in the story that gives the play its title.
For all the emotional weight it hefts, the play breathes and moves throughout. Talman’s energy is a rare thing, certainly overclocked, but invested with such honesty that no speeding ticket will stick to it. One performer juggling five or six characters at a time with clarity and investment is a joy to see so seamlessly accomplished.
The play’s opening and its early recollections do suffer a lack of storytelling signposts, bouncing off connections and moments, which nevertheless happily abound in vivid details and humor. Talman’s portrayal of her mother is particularly grounding in the first arc. It’s a riveting embodiment, so richly layered that it makes dramaturgical quibbles seem as disrespectful as talking back to your mother.
As the play passes its first milestones, including a wonderfully crisp mother-daughter dialogue during a hair-brushing session, the structure of Talman’s life takes over, grounding the evening with the consequences of her commitments and her choices, and consummating in a confession so raw and real that it is worth the price of admittance alone.
The well-ordered set does feel a little too well ordered for a play about memories, a choice that Talman’s fluid, charismatic performance transcends. Director John Shephard’s staging is laudably subtle. The show never dragged, but the pace did suffer a lack of breath early on. The multiplicity of tones throughout was expertly navigated.
In the end, the storytelling miscues of “Woody’s Order!” can’t detract from the power of the story shown, or rather, given – a bold reminder that the time and energy devoted to caring for others doesn’t make it to the top of our newsfeed – and that perhaps it should.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, no intermission.
“Woody’s Order!” runs through February 19, 2017 at the Studio Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse. For more information, click here.