nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
February 11, 2010
In 180 Days, the engaging young author/performer Taren Sterry, a former UC-Santa Cruz student (ground zero for touchy-feely / hippy-groovy style education) quite honestly and alarmingly tells the tale of how she reveled in the shock factor of studying death, and traveled post-grad to the "exotic" land of her ancestors, South Dakota, to try her hand as a hospice worker. Living with her grandmother, visiting with her rough-around-the-edges cousins, secretly enjoying working at the Wal-Mart to make ends meet, she is filled with—one hopes—ironic observations of her plans to make her patients' last days more fulfilling by her mere presence. And though she begins the trip as a very shallow girl, ultimately she learns compassion and becomes a woman in this journey.
It's a one person show, set up at beginning and end as a humorous interview, jumping into what seems like a live audio book, with Sterry play-acting all the roles—with varying success.
Though she is quite funny, cute as a pixie, and does a good Fargo accent, her surprising lack of empathy throughout most of her show left me as cold as a South Dakota winter.
One theme of the show is Sterry's attempt to preserve the dignity of hallucinating patients by contradicting these poor souls in a kind of tough love/reality check for people who had precious little reality left. I did not understand her.
Yet, in the last two minutes of the piece, there is an incredible change in tone. Sterry shares the heartbreaking story of how her grandparents lost their first baby—caught in a blizzard, unable to reach the hospital in time. This story is told simply, plainly, and is worth every moment leading up to it. She reenacts her grandfather as a young father, cradling his dying infant in his arms, loving him as he draws his last breaths, completely connected to him in his last moment on earth. It just broke my heart. He hid the death from his young wife, continued to the hospital, let the doctors take the baby and then tell her he was gone, I guess so he could keep the baby alive for his wife for another few moments.
The play closes with the wise words of her grandmother about the hospital, as a young mother finding peace with losing this tiny baby, she sums up the point of the play, and makes you instantly, wholeheartedly forgive Sterry her failings, and applaud her honesty and open heart: "They did the best they could."
So what if Sterry started out a selfish girl, trying to work with death to be cool. In the end, she finally understood, she did the best she could. And that is more than enough.