A Day in the Death of Joe Egg by Peter Nichols is Thalia’s Umbrella first play. This new company promises to present plays that ‘dance in the line between tragedy and comedy’ and to that end, they could not have chosen a better script.
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg follows an English family as they struggle to raise their only child, who is severely disabled. Brian (the dad) is represented as a man with a never-ending sense of humor full of playfulness and constantly making jokes. The mom, on the other hand, is loving and caring, never giving up on her child. Regardless of what anyone says, she never gave up hope that Joe (the girl) will one day move again. These parents made the play immediate to me, as I do too, come from a home with a dad who (besides being a great provider) is a family-sized child and a mother, who will never stop doing everything she can to guarantee the wellbeing of her children, even though we are all grown adults.
The play in general also brought back old discussions I had while working with special needs students at a school in London where one of my tasks was to feed lunch to one of the brightest 17 years old I have ever met, who -like Joe- had cerebral palsy.
But enough about me, this review is about Joe Egg. The play follows a Brechtian style, where the scenes are interrupted by the actors addressing the audience directly. They reveal valuable information about their relationships, re-enact the background story to what we are watching and even has a surrealist sequence to introduce the intermission.
As much as I questioned this fragmentation of the story-telling in the first act, in hindsight, I am actually grateful for it, as the story is so palpable and relevant, that it is a good thing they remind you you are in the theatre every now and then. Even with this structure, I found myself on the second act (for the first time in a very long time) forgetting all about the dramaturgy, set, costumes, accents or acting and fully immersed in the world of the play. I found myself wanting to leap out of my seat and challenge the characters’ choices, deeply affected by every word, every turn of events, every reaction. I wanted to jump in and take part in the conversation, try to find a solution with them, I found myself truly taking part in this story.
The language is precise and memorable, resonating at every turn of the plot. ‘Wouldn’t she be lovely if she was running around’ is particularly touching and disturbing while ‘Aren’t we lucky’ as the play’s very last words are both a gift and a slap to the audience leaving you hanging, unable to judge the characters, craving a clean resolution, which you know won’t come because the problem at hand is oh so much more complex than that.
What a beautiful thing to be able to see a play that, not only makes you think, but also provokes such intense emotions. This is exactly what I expect from a night at the theatre, a meaningful, relevant story told so skillfully, that you can’t see the craft of those involved.
Catch it before it ends. Trust me, you won’t regret making the extra effort to see this one!