AMANA — The Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” sings: “I could stay young and chipper ... if I only had a heart.”
Despite her name, Joy, the heart transplant recipient in “The Tin Woman,” is anything but chipper. She’s grateful for her second chance at life, but fraught with guilt that someone had to die so that she could live.
Likewise, the donor’s family is wracked with grief over the tragic death of their son and brother Jack, killed in a car crash at age 36.
Will meeting each other lead toward healing or bring further despair to all the survivors?
The drama unfolds in one of the most affecting plays I’ve ever seen at the Old Creamery Theatre — or anywhere. Playwright Sean Grennan has crafted a thoughtful, taut, probing look at organ donation from both perspectives, based on a true story.
I was warned to bring tissues, and now I’ll pass that warning along to anyone going to the show, which runs through Aug. 26 on the main stage in Amana. I managed to keep it together until the final moments of Sunday’s matinee (8/12), when audible sobbing rippled through the theater, and the older gentleman in front of me remove his glasses to wipe away his tears.
I started crying again on the drive back to Cedar Rapids, as I began to think of my newlywed niece’s husband who died in a freak racetrack accident.
This show will resonate with anyone who has suffered a loss, which basically, is everyone.
The mood isn’t all pathos and heartbreak. Each character elicits laughs at some point in the dialogue.
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Most of them, however, come from one of the Old Creamery’s finest comedians, Marquetta Senters, who also happens to be a fine dramatic actress. She plays the grieving mother, and gets all the fun sarcastic quips, especially when talking to her gruff and aloof husband (David Q. Combs).
In this early exchange, he asks: “When’s dinner?” “Same time as it’s been for 36 years,” she replies. “What time is that?” “Dinner time.” While I could see this punch line coming a mile away, the laugh was most welcome.
Jackie McCall, who often plays for laughs or the ingenue in Old Creamery fare, gets to flex her dramatic muscles as the transplant recipient. She is simply marvelous, navigating Joy’s emotional and physical challenges. Her downward spiral in wrenching, especially when her flamboyant friend Darla (Caroline Price), tries every way imaginable to pull Joy back to life, or to at least take a shower.
The other character so easy to love is Jack’s younger sister, Sammy, played by Katie Colletta. She’s a free-spirited preschool teacher who has moved from the East Coast to Chicago. She rarely comes back home, but jumps at the chance to meet Joy at a family dinner. Sammy embraces New Age spirituality and lifestyle, and when she sees Joy, she can’t stop hugging her and sobbing between sentences. She adds a lovely sweetness that lightens a most awkward situation.
For all of his harrumphing, we know the father is hiding a deep-seated grief that’s bubbling beneath the surface, ready to explode. Combs is so masterful in portraying this kind of anguish that we also want to throw our arms around him, even though he would push away.
One of the best characters, however, is silent until some well-placed flashbacks near the end of the show. Tom Schwans, a New York actor with a long history at the Old Creamery, returns to play Jack, ever-present for Joy and for his family. Always engaged in the action around the people he loves and admires, he watches intently and gently touches them in the way people who are grieving hope their loved ones can do. He is especially endearing when he reaches out to lightly brush a sleeping Joy’s cheek and hand.
Guest director Janeve West from the theater faculty at Cornell College in Mount Vernon also caresses the action beautifully and tenderly, finding all the pivotal notes between sorrow and hope. Especially effective are the heartbeats that sound between scenes, and the lighting effects that signal the flashbacks, pulling the audience into the past from the present.
This is a production that will tug at your heart long after those lights go down.