Woman in Broncos T-shirt stands behind bar with orange juice and vodka bottles on it. A man in green hoodie and gray shorts listens to her.
Kathryn Acosta and Dan Lin in On the Greenbelt at Strawdog Theatre Credit: Jenn Udoni/Franco Images

When my mother was nearing the end of her battle with stage four cancer, she opened Google on the family computer one day, keyed in “assisted suicide,” and hit search. Scared, selfish, and in my early 20s, I pretended to have never stumbled across the phrase in the browser history and tried to keep it out of mind, even as her painful decline accelerated. I wouldn’t understand until her death weeks later, but she—like everyone—deserved at the very least to have had that difficult and pragmatic conversation with her family, and honoring the sanctity of life involves more than just wringing out every last agonizing and horrifying second of it.

On the Greenbelt
Through 5/28: Thu-Sun 7 PM; also Wed 5/18, 7 PM (understudy performance); Links Hall, 3111 N. Western, strawdog.org, free.

End-of-life autonomy is just one of the sobering realities crashing down on perpetually drunk Jules (a vulnerable and acerbic Kathryn Acosta) in Karissa Murrell Myers’s new coming-of-belated-age family dramedy. A tenuously-employed, quasi-out pansexual barista with a full voicemail box and a shouting-only relationship with her apartment neighbors, Jules’s grasp on her life slips further when it becomes clear her devoutly religious mother (Lynne Baker) will soon die. It’s an inevitability understood by her concerned and caring brother (Dan Lin), her sweet and quietly resilient father (Jamie Vann), her loving if overstepping nurse sister-in-law (Jessica Ervin), and her partner (Alexis Ward), but Jules clings to implausible theories for hope. 

Presented as part of Strawdog Theatre Company’s Aftermath-themed season, On The Greenbelt flashes between the days before and after Jules’s mother’s funeral and explores the reasons behind the rifts between grieving survivors. Veteran director Jonathan Berry’s production leans into the pendulum-sized tonal swings of Myers’s story, which juxtaposes hard drama with multicam comedic sensibilities. Sugar helps the medicine go down, but the distinct styles don’t always make for complementary bedfellows. On one hand, it’s the sort of play that opens scenes with a somber woosh sound effect culminating in a single piano key; on the other, it’s one where supporting characters barge in without invitation, wrestle on futons, and exchange Oh brother! glances followed by synchronized shot swigs in the sort of performance beats you expect from sitcoms. Strawdog’s Links Hall performance space also poses basic blocking challenges, with critical action often being kept at a distance from audiences on a mostly static set.  

And yet, when Strawdog’s production lands, it really lands. There’s tangible warmth and compassion in Jules’s family, both blood and chosen, and each character feels modernly devised and realistically imperfect. And though the road to it can be bumpy and tangential, the final image of Berry’s production is a profound synthesis of the altered relationships families who grieve together endure.