by Kimberly Wadsworth · August 26, 2015
Every family has its secrets. Some families keep secrets from each other, and everyone suffers as a result. But some secrets just want to come out– and whether it’s best to uncover the past or rebury it is always a difficult choice, and just as much a family stressor.
Fading Light looks at one family confronted with such a choice. Mother Lilian is in a nursing home, undergoing the early stages of Alzheimer’s; she is visited daily by daughter Nora, who patiently brings photos to jog her mother’s memory of the past, particularly stories about the ill-starred “Aunt Virginia”. But Nora’s brother Samuel (“never just ‘Sam’,” Nora tells us) rarely does, finding it just as depressing as he seems to find everything else. But Lillian does have one other visitor – the ghost of her husband Albert, there to remind her of some of their own private memories. When Lillian happens to blurt out something to Nora which she’d been discussing with Albert, it’s a clue to unravelling a secret Nora and Samuel long suspected lay at their family’s center; but their efforts to unravel it also carry the risk of driving them further apart.
It’s a sophisticated script, with Lillian’s fading memory proving the perfect tool for drawing out suspense; frequently, as Lillian seems about to remember one more piece of the unfolding story to a frantic Nora, she suddenly loses her train of thought and complains about a mean attendant in the nursing home or its unchanging Mexican food menu. There was a time or two, though, when I found some of Samuel or Nora’s speeches equally as circular – Nora’s early story of a childhood breakfast with Aunt Virginia made a bit-too-frequent mention of her low-cut dress and her “boobs out to here!” and a speech from Samuel revealing the contents of a conversation he’d once had with father Albert came only a couple minutes after we had just seen that very same conversation acted out.
The performances, however, are uniformly excellent. Anne Howard’s Nora is determined to be sunny and positive – “I’m a happy person!” she repeatedly insists – but it becomes quickly clear how much of that “happy“ attitude is a willful façade. Len Rella’s Albert is also not necessarily a dreamy, friendly ghost, but a voice from the past with a mind of its own. Everyone calls Samuel “depressed”, but J.D. Lynch lets us see that his “depression” is mostly unresolved tension following a childhood incident where he saw Albert in conversation with an old girlfriend. Lynch also excels during a scene where Samuel finally visits Lillian, who is lost in a memory of her 25th wedding anniversary – and she addresses him as Albert. Samuel first tries to set her straight, but then finally plays along – and Lynch lets us see how torn Samuel is between wanting out of such an Oedipal situation and wanting to make his mother happy.
Special notice, though, should go to Joan Porter, who was Lillian the night I saw the show. The program originally had another actress’ name listed; a hastily-printed program insert and an announcement from the venue director made me suspect this was a very last-minute cast change. But Porter carried off such a stressful change – and an intense scene towards the end – with ease.