nytheatre.com review by Keelie A. Sheridan
August 19, 2010
One would think we, as a species, would be more adept at communicating our thoughts and feelings on a subject as universal as death. It unites us as mortals. Some fear it, some accept it, some defy it, but we will all experience it. It's not a new phenomenon. For as long as humans have existed, we've been dying. An inevitable fact of living is outliving loved ones. We're compelled to reach out and connect with those who lose someone. Why is it, then, that no one seems to know quite what to say or how to say it when extending sympathies for another's loss? "No one really knows how to say or do the right thing, because it doesn't exist," suggests Lauren Olson, writer and performer of Our Condolences.
A quick-moving, thoughtful, and honest piece, Our Condolences illustrates several such attempts by individuals with varying intentions, based upon Olson's own experiences related to her mother's death. Characters range from an unfortunate ex-boyfriend to an overbearing post-mortem management counselor to an oblivious salesgirl and a naive young cousin, none of whom has ill-intentions, yet each of whom adopts wholly inappropriate methods of well-wishing (if inappropriateness can even exist in a context where there is no such thing as "appropriate").
Olson delivers a seamless performance, effortlessly shifting among characters of varying ages, genders, and levels of emotional stability. The cleverly written piece amplifies her strong physical and vocal performance abilities, which in turn showcases her engaging and honest style of writing. Performing something tantamount to theatrical Olympics, Olson's impressive channeling of such a wide range of individuals with no lag or overlap is a testament to her acting ability. It's quite evident that director Rachel Hamilton gets the piece, and has expertly guided its clean, blunt, and honest execution. Each character shines individually with simple costume embellishments. The minimally decorated stage is functional, well-appointed, and optimally utilized, though place is never the focus.
Through a series of in-person sketches and pre-recorded voicemails, this character-centered piece keeps the spotlight steadily pointed at the individual voices represented, what the death of one woman means to each of them, and how they relate to her survivors. Though the subject matter can be emotional and sobering, the overall tone of the piece is playful—an absolution of the deeds depicted on the stage, which is a relief for the audience, who can't help but wonder, as they watch the out-of-line-yet-true-to-life post-mortem antics unfold, "Have I ever done that?"