Vivienne Avery will break your heart. It is not her intention. Before you know it, though, she will have put it back together again, and you’ll be on your way. Changed for the better perhaps. More compassionate or more understanding, or even if it was just a diversion, you’ll likely feel lighter and fresher.
Vivienne doesn’t mean to do it. She’s too naturally polite for that, yet she’s so brutally honest and self-aware, your heart will ache, but you’ll laugh much more than you cry.
Vivienne is telling the story of her mother, Rosemary, and herself. Rosemary has dementia brought on by Alzheimer’s, and Vivienne has become, as she describes it, a “proactive family care manager.” It’s hard not to relate because so many of us will become one of these two.
Vivienne is tightly wrapped, which she might acknowledge as she talks to you, and that is much of the play “Blackberry Winter,” written by Steven Yockey and now at Capital Stage. Vivienne’s witty, confidential, self-deprecating monologue feels more like a conversation where both you and she have forgotten the question because the story she’s telling now is so much more interesting than a more direct answer might have been. And, more important, she so obviously needs to get this out.
A trim, taut, direct Southern woman in her early 40s, Vivienne seems unremarkable at first with her tidy blue dress, short bright red jacket and stylishly cropped short auburn hair. She runs a small baking business out of her home and has a husband, son and a sister and considers herself a “terrible person.” She’s not; she just has occasional dark thoughts.
As played by the endlessly resourceful Amy Resnick, Vivienne becomes a tenacious Everywoman, encapsulating and verbalizing the experience of generations. Resnick has always brought a casual toughness to her characters; more strength than protective shell, she is also human in a way we feel and admire. Resnick seamlessly sifts through Vivienne’s sporadic anger, dark humor and resilient honesty.
Vivienne is her mother’s caregiver. As so often happens, the life roles have reversed. Everything about Rosemary is up to Vivienne, who’s not really ready for the next part, the part in a letter Vivienne doesn’t want to open.
Vivienne tells us there’s not going to be a happy ending. Things will change, but they won’t get better. Beautiful but now-voiceless Rosemary, who sometimes doesn’t remember her daughter, has violent fantasies (are they fantasies?) and liked things “just so,” becomes the play’s other character, the one we don’t need to see.
There is also a story within the story, a fable told in three parts seen through Dan Lydersen’s poetic animation, which is Vivienne’s “origin myth” about Alzheimer’s. We see the verse-speaking characters of Vivienne’s creation myth when she brings them onstage, where they sit much of the play. White Egret (Sara Lynn Wagner) and Gray Mole (Jacob Garcia) both speak in verse and seem like live ornaments at first, but their roles deepen, and we feel the fable’s impact as their story concludes.
Director Jonathan Williams allows Yockey’s multilayered work to unfold with light deliberation. Vivienne’s anxiety never lies far from the surface, but her humor and sincerity balance the story’s natural pathos. Yockey and Resnick find grace in Vivienne, and you can’t ask for more than that.
What: The National New Play Network rolling world premiere of Steven Yockey’s drama. With Amy Resnick, directed by Jonathan Williams.
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: Continues through Sunday, April 17, at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Information: 916-995-5464; capstage.org
Time: 90 minutes with no intermission