At first glance, the set of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in the Bullitt Cabaret seems like a properly middle-class, 1960s English drawing room.  Yes, there are huge palm trees and coconuts on the green wallpaper, and there are fish tanks and bird cages set along the edges of the stage, and home-made paintings of wild west characters on a bright red wall, but the furniture is sturdy and the overall feel is quite homey. 

Then, you spot the huge brass clock upstage center and see that it has no hands.  It’s a clue that there is something not quite right going on; time seems to be relentlessly standing still. 

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is a story about hoping and despairing,  stagnating while yet bustling about in a years-old routine.   A married couple, Brian and Sheila, are raising their developmentally disabled daughter Josephine, a beautiful little girl whom doctors say will never be much more than “a vegetable.”  Brian and Sheila use humor and imagination to get through the days, but things take a dark turn as Brian begins to imagine life without his daughter.

The script calls for the characters to interact a bit with the audience as they explain the difficulties they have faced while taking care of Josephine.  Sometimes the jokes seem very insensitive, but I think that’s the idea.  Egg is a powerful plays that challenges us to consider what we would do in such a situation:  Would laughter be our best medicine?  Just how selfless—or selfish—would we be?  How long would it take us to reach a breaking point?    

The actors, particularly Leslie Law as Sheila and Terry Edward Moore as Brian, turn in strong performances that keep the play in a tense and delicate balance.  Though it is obvious that their characters love to laugh, it is also clear that at any moment they could begin to cry, and perhaps never stop.

Moore’s performance is especially heartfelt and transparent, and Brandon Whitehead’s and Carol Roscoe’s turns as family friends Freddie and Pam are engaging as well.  Veteran actress Susan Corzatte as Brian’s mother and youngster Aidyn Stevens as Joe complete the impressive cast.   Two special post-show discussions with family therapists will be held on February 3rd and 10th.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.  Written by Peter Nichols.  Directed by Daniel Wilson.  Thalia’s Umbrella,  Bullitt Cabaret at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle.  January 31 – February 17, 2013.  Tickets and information at 206-292-7676, www.acttheatre.org or www.thaliasumbrella.org. 

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