PITZ AND JOE, Red Hen Productions, at Angel Island. Anyone thrust into the position of caretaker will identify with Dominique Cieri’s autobiographical play about a brain-damaged man and his sister. And anyone who’s witnessed neurological decay will find the flashbacks from the simple, syllable-slurring Joe (Doug MacKechnie) to his nimble, gifted former self heartrending, and the unsentimental devotion of Pitz (Ann Followill) acutely recognizable. But the script’s very reality does it in: Joe is a presence defined by absence, incapable of communication.
Director Greg Kolack hasn’t made this the funereal affair you might expect: the irrepressible Joe is still charismatic. And both actors are impressively, consistently committed–a must, as they comprise the entire cast of a longish intermissionless show–bringing a warm, fragile stillness to strong portrayals. Robert A. Knuth’s lighting and basement-bedroom set are perfect down to the wan blue glow filtered in through half-buried windows. And the climactic, borderline mawkish articulation of the play’s theme–“Do you forgive me for wanting you to die?” “Do you forgive me for wanting to live?”–is nevertheless justified and moving.
Ultimately, though, the play centers around a memory of a memory–Cieri’s shorthand back story paints only the faintest picture of the undamaged Joe as the narrative builds toward body-blow revelations you see coming a mile away. While half the resulting frustration seems intended and appropriate, the other half is just frustrating.