I’m hanging my head in shame because I saw Washington Ensemble Theatre’s staging of The Mistakes Madeline Made on opening weekend then promptly got busy and neglected to post about it. I hope all concerned will forgive me because the production shows WET at its best and deserves a huge audience in its closing weekend (their last show is Monday, March 16).
Flawed but funny and moving, Elizabeth Meriwether’s fleet (90 minute) play considers the plight of collegiate Edna (Elise Hunt), who can’t forget her soldier brother Buddy (Taylor Maxwell), killed in Iraq after a visit home during which, increasingly shell-shocked, he would not leave Edna’s bathtub.
Edna toils for The Family—a clan of rich folk who depend on Edna’s boss Beth (Mary Bliss Mather) to supervise the household stocking of fashionable tennis shoes, the packing of sack lunches for the children and, most amusingly, the dispensing of Handi Wipes. Edna can barely function in such surroundings and, overcome with the pointlessness of it all, decides to stop bathing.
Director Michael Place forces a little too much air into this dark comic piece—allowing a game Mather, in particular, to overstate her fussbudget’s idiosyncrasies—but he nonetheless brings it to believable life. There’s palpable tenderness in his handling of these characters’ various hurts. Maxwell seems to be slowly imploding. And Hunt, an appealing pixie who reveals new strengths every time I see her on stage, complements him with a more domestic despair. Her slacker’s woe will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever rolled their eyes at office drudgery; the production wouldn’t work if she couldn’t leapfrog from wry wisecrack to nagging panic as often and deftly as she does.
The only better performer may be Ray Tagavilla, still inexplicably unsung as one of Seattle’s finest talents, who portrays Edna’s eccentric, affectionate coworker Wilson. Wilson’s a guy not skilled at conversation but possessing a Tourette’s-like need to express himself through sound effects (especially when he’s at the copy machine). He’s both introvert and extrovert—and Tagavilla pulls that trick off in a manner that would look overblown in other hands.
Meriwether’s script fumbles, eventually, because she’s posing a question too big to answer in 90 minutes (if at all): What’s the correct way to conduct our lives here when we’re involved in something horrible that’s happening somewhere else? But there are worse things than implying that opening up to other people rather than dismissing them out of hand might in some small way improve the world.
Place’s production won’t change the world—but it just may prove to be one of the year’s more memorable successes.