I saw CoHo Productions' Good Morning Miss America on International Women's Day, which turned out to be appropriate timing, given that across the globe women do the majority of the caretaking for the elderly. In America, that gender disparity is particularly evident if the elderly are still at home, and as baby boomers age, that describes more people every day. Many seniors are relegated to institutions for care, and many of us don't like to discuss this–but not Phyllis Yes. The well-known Portland visual artist, Lewis & Clark instructor, and newly celebrated playwright has brought this difficult and frustrating topic into the spotlight with Good Morning Miss America.
Good Morning Miss America examines one woman's journey of assisting her aging mother and stepfather, who want to hold onto each other and their independence, despite their increasing physical and mental frailty. That woman, Jane (Lorraine Bahr), is a successful, busy artist who also doesn't live near her mother and stepfather, which means facilitating long-distance elder care. Jane's mother, Doris (Jane Fellows, who also directed), has serious chronic health conditions, but Lou (Rick Sadle), Jane's stepfather, insists he can manage Doris' needs. So Jane travels back and forth between their home and hers, managing finances, medications, and plans, while also trying to convince her sister, Cindy (Kelley Marchant), to help out. Complex strata of dysfunctional family dynamics–like parental favoritism, various neuroses, and creepy boundaries–come to light, as both elders' mental and physical health deteriorate.
No character in Good Morning Miss America is particularly lovable, and their worsening circumstances lead to cringe-worthy behaviors. The moments of levity Yes has written into the script don't provide quite enough relief. Sadle took on the role of Lou only a few months before opening, and he looks as if he could've used more rehearsals to master the tricky balance of portraying the character's devolution. But Bahr expresses with depth the frustration, sadness, worry, and psychological pain of watching her mother age, especially when Doris confuses her daughters' identities.
As the play comes to its denouement, Jane realizes she has no choice but to accept things as they are–her mother's love, her sister's capacity to be of service–even when they aren't what she would've hoped for. A few times during and after Good Morning Miss America, I wondered why anyone would watch a play that depicts real life with such sad intensity. But this inevitable circumstance is one we will all face, and we need to see the reality of it.