Profiles explores its caregiving side with ‘Assisted Living’

Assisted Living, a new play by Deirdre O’Connor, is a tender domestic drama about a woman, whose life has been consumed by taking care of her ailing mother, struggling to rediscover herself.

Really? Profiles Theatre, a company known for producing extremely violent and upsetting works such a Killer Joe and Kid Sister, is producing this? Artistic Director Joe Jahraus is one step ahead of us, and addresses this very question in the playbill’s director’s notes:

“At Profiles, we answer a simple question when choosing our plays: Is this something we’d like to see? I’ve found more and more that the shows we end up producing connect to what I’m experiencing or contemplating in my own life … I believe our plays, as in real life, people struggle to do the best they can or the only thing they know how to do, until someone or something changes them … Deirdre’s play encouraged me to think about family and the unfortunate limites of self-reliance.”

Becoming caregiver to our parents is something many of us will face at some point in the near future — or have faced or are currently facing. In fact, I have a few friends who’ve been forced into this role at a relatively young age, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for them. They admit they aren’t prepared for such sudden responsibility, but who ever is?

O’Connor’s play represents this sobering reality through Anne (Stacy Stoltz), an attractive, 40-something librarian who once had dreams, desires and her own apartment, but due to her mother’s rapid dementia-related deterioration, she’s put her life on hold and has dissolved into a high-strung house servant who spends her days yelling up the stairs at her mother’s nurse. She’s losing control, and needs help — especially since the current nurse is one foot out the door after having been bitten by Anne’s mother. In comes Levi (Jordan Stacey), an eager and nervous young man (and recovering alcoholic) with minimal caregiving experience. Something about Levi causes Anne to make a gut hiring decision, and he gets started right away.

But just who has he been hired to take care of? And is he becoming a bit too attached to his charges?

Things get extra tricky when Anne’s deadbeat brother (Layne Manzer) breezes in with his own set of problems — including a secret girlfriend (Shannon Hollander) who arrives, announced, at the worst possible time and with a special surprise — causing Anne to make some grown up decisions so she can finally get on with her life as best she can.

Deirdre’s play has many moments of heartbreaking truth, and it’s mostly thanks to Stoltz’s thoughtful and nuanced performance. Her Anne is a deeply conflicted woman: she resents what she’s become, but knows she has to fill this role to ensure her mother’s well-being. And, though she never admits it, we get the sense that Anne, as played by Stoltz, resents her mother for putting her in this position, but also knows its not her fault. She’s guilt-stricken, angry and sad, but deep down inside there’s still a vibrant, smart woman who yearns for love and happiness. It’s a complex role, and Stoltz finds many of the necessary colors.

However, things do get a little trite at times, particularly during the subplot between Anne’s brother and his girlfriend. I also wish we knew a bit more about Anne’s relationship with her mother prior to her being overcome by dementia (we never actually see Anne’s mother — her only presence is muffled yelling through an onstage baby monitor, which Anne shuts off after having had her fill). It might help us better connect with Anne’s situation.

Still, I applaud Profiles for taking on this tender play and keeping it real, honest and touching.

“Assisted Living” plays through December 18 at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield. Tickets here >

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