Reviewed By Julio Martinez
Ensemble Studo Theatre/LA
Through April 22
In her one-woman show — currently having its West Coast premiere at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA in Atwater Village – actress Ann Talman chronicles the joys and hardships of growing up as the younger sister of a bright and feisty non-verbal quadriplegic whom she adored with a fierce determination. As family legend has it, her 8-year-old brother Woody feared that if something happened to his parents he would need someone to take care of him. He began making motions over his mother’s tummy and father’s lap, as if he were conjuring up a spell. In 1957, Ann was born. And on the Polaroid photo taken at her birth her mother emphatically wrote the words, “Woody’s Order!”
Talman, an accomplished performer, physically and verbally manifests every character in her story—including (among others) her brother Woody, her father Woods G. Talman (a former Army colonel), her no-nonsense Southern mother Martha, as well as her younger self—with a succinct economy that never inhibits the flow of her narrative.
The individual personalities are quickly established as Talman flows seamlessly from her father’s militaristic huffy commands to her mother’s drawl to her brother’s grunt-filled gyrations. She speaks candidly of the immense responsibility involved in taking care of Woody and the toll it took on the family, sadly leading to her parents’ alcoholism and depression. Ann also touches on her marriage to the actor Bruce MacVittie, who became devoted to helping with Woody’s care, but in the end, could not keep up with his wife’s single-minded dedication to caring for her brother.
As her softly-drawling mother put it, “I have one child who can’t talk, and another who talks for two.” Helmed by John Shepard, Woody’s Order! is not a tale of woe, but a nostalgic and joy-filled journey through Ann’s life. The painful events are more of a crucible, leading to another life-enhancing adventure. It is a portrait of a young girl and her big brother. It is a love story.
The set, designed by Stephanie Mayer, is imaginatively and reverentially hung with Ann’s mother’s many Polaroid photos, immortalizing every stage of Ann and Woody’s upbringing. There is a pre-show of home videos (not to be missed) accompanied by 60’s pop hits, chronicling Woody’s frenetic, loving upbringing.
The show’s title character, Woody, is now in his late 60s, far surpassing his life expectancy of 12, now living in an East Coast nursing care facility. Talman is relentlessly positive about her commitment to her brother while proclaiming that all is still good in her life.
Ensemble Studo Theatre/LA, 3269 Casitas Ave., LA 90039; Fri. & Sat., 8 p.m; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Apr. 22. (818) 839-1197 or www.woodysorder.brownpapertickets.com. Running Time: 85 minutes, no intermission.