The End of the Tour, Victory Gardens Theater. Joel Drake Johnson’s new play is a sensitively written, beautifully acted portrait of a fragmented family. Set in downstate Dixon, the action revolves around vain, crusty Mae Anne, a nursing-home patient whose main claim to fame is having once sung for hometown boy Ronald Reagan. Mae Anne’s vicious circle of anger, denial, and depression has alienated her gay son, Andrew, who left long ago for Chicago, and her long-suffering middle-aged caretaker daughter, Jan, who’s about to move away just when her mother needs her the most. Johnson examines how Jan and Andrew’s festering emotional wounds poison their relationships with each other and with their significant others–Jan’s ex-husband, Chuck, and Andrew’s boyfriend, David.
Director Sandy Shinner’s economical, intelligent staging features brilliant performances by Annabel Armour and Mary Ann Thebus as Jan and Mae Anne; their scenes together express the intimacy and hostility of a lifetime shared. Nuanced support comes from Rob Riley as Chuck, Marc Silvia as Chuck’s sympathetic buddy, and Timothy Hendrickson and Andrew Rothenberg as Andrew and David.
Unlike many writers who employ bilious caricature to portray familial dysfunction, Johnson balances gallows humor with acute insight and compassion. He creates characters so real you wonder what will happen to them after the final blackout–and hope that the healing effects of time will allow parent and children to reconcile and thus reclaim life’s most fundamental and precious relationship.