Finding The Joy of Life
"The Tin Woman" Comes Alive at Bowie Playhouse
By Maria Lopez Bernstein
If you were dying and given a second chance at life, would you take it? Would you relish in it?
This based on true events theatrical performance presents that question and more. It pulls at the wounds of within human emotion like extracting stitches from a still fresh injury. The work asks can you live with yourself if you live and can you forgive yourself when others don’t.
Heart transplant recipient, Joy, could not.
Instead, her feelings of guilt overshadow any happiness she may feel. She questions her self-worth and maintains a gloom-anchored downward spiral into alcohol and depression. At the other end, the heart donor's family deals with their own feelings of loss after their son and brother, Jack, suddenly dies. Both worlds are consumed in loss.
But the painful aftermath of loss is only the tip of the iceberg in The Tin Woman (click here for more photos), produced by Roy Peterson and directed by Estelle Miller. It confronts us with the mirrored anguish of how powerless we are but to take hope in the strength of the unseen bonds that tie us together.
At the suggestion of her friend Darla (Brawnlyn Patterson), Joy reaches out to the donor's family. An awkward meeting between Joy and Jack's family creates both rueful and comical tension, and a myriad of feelings are released on both sides of the spectrum.
A Little About the Cast And Performance
James R. "Jim" Estepp skillfully plays Hank, the angry father who is enveloped in grief and guilt. Snappish and abrupt, he finds escape in drinking and in moments away from home. Alice (Barbara Webber) shines as the glue that holds the family together, despite her own grief. Sammy is Jack's younger sister, a preschool teacher who is new-age and an oversharing blogger, much to Hank's dismay. Played comically by Jenn Robinson, Sammy is a bit over-the-top.
Joy is a complicated character. Played by Zarah Rautell, Joy realizes she should be happy, but instead is wrapped in guilt that someone had to die in order for her to live. Despite her depression, Joy displays a ray of hope. If only she could meet the donor's family, she could come out of despair. This of course, was encouraged by Joy's friend Darla who is clearly a supportive girlfriend with jokes up her sleeve. The role of Jack, played by Carlo Olivi, although onstage throughout nearly the entire production, is there only as a memory. Olivi has limited lines, but he charismatically brings us toward him: he is between the audience and the families he watches over always present but not completely in one world nor the other. For the most part, Jack is the ever-present memory that lingers, moving closer or farther away from the characters as needed to inspire and influence them.
The Heart Of The Matter
While smattered with humor, The Tin Woman is a powerful and serious work brimming with drama and emotion. Miller, who guides and leads the production with the protective oversight of a mother lion, brings great depth and vision to this true story. And Estepp's performance leads The Tin Woman’s climax through an explosion that brings the audience to empathetic tears.
The Tin Woman will make you laugh. It will make you think. It will make you cry. So bring a hankie. We come away remembering that life is fragile but beautiful and that even in tragedy there’s hope and order. It reminds us to cherish who and what we have but know that in great ways we are connected nomatter how slight or distant it may seem.
Playing at the Bowie Playhouse at 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie, Md. through January 28, The Tin Woman, written by Sean Grennan, is presented by Prince George's Little Theatre, Inc.