Their two sons have conflicting opinions about the situation. Roddy (S.A. Rogers) wants to move their parents into a retirement community right away; Evan (Justin Bruse) thinks they should wait and see what happens. "Your idea of helping is to run things," he tells Roddy. "If you move them, you'll destroy the only order they've ever known."
Granddaughter LD (Andrea Peterson) is devoted to her grandmother, who largely raised her, but struggles with her own issues of loss, caused by her mother, Leah's, suicide years before. "She had no right to leave me," she tells Annis. "When she died, I understood death as the other half of a breath," Annis reflects.
Jensen's writing is as economical and tight as a drum, and Callahan's focused direction unerringly keys off its momentum. They've created a visceral way to put us into Annis' head when she has spells. The lights flicker and dim, discordant music intrudes, soft snow falls, the walls of the set peel away, and the surrounding birch trees invade. We literally feel what Annis is experiencing.
Decker couldn't be better at capturing Annis' constant mood swings: her bewilderment and absent expression during her spells, her clever method of masking them, her astute way of tuning in, then playing off others, and her unwavering determination to choose what's right for her. As Robeck, Nelson's preoccupied, detached air is balanced by genuine love and concern for his wife; he simply can't cope with what's happening. Rogers and Bruse are able and active adversaries as their sons; Rogers' type A, take-charge attitude is fated to clash with Bruse's laid-back, low-key approach. Peterson's LD juggles flower-child flakiness with support and understanding for her grandmother.
Dennis Hassan's detailed, academic-looking living room set is appropriately cluttered, reflecting the distraction and disorganization in its owners' lives. James Craig's muted lighting, Nancy Hills' relaxed contemporary costumes, and the mix of classical and discordant music in Cynthia Kehr Rees' sound design combine fluidly in setting the scene.
As the population age and enter the winter of their lives, end-of-life questions become more relevant and controversial. Should people be able to control when and how they die? What are the ethical and religious implications? "Winter" offers no easy answers, but its audience will leave the theater challenged by the choices.
Salt Lake Acting Company gives Julie Jensen's provocative play a knockout premiere production.
When • Reviewed Oct. 14; plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 1 and 6 p.m., through. Nov. 13. Additional performances Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 5 and 12 at 2 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15 to $42 with discounts for students, seniors, groups and those under 30; 801- 363-7522 or saltlakeactingcompany.org; contains adult language and material
Running time • 80 minutes (no intermission)
Note • A free panel discussion titled "Death & Dignity," sponsored by Utah Humanities and the League of Women Voters, will take place at 3:30 p.m. after the Nov. 5 matinee