Theatre Row, Manhattan

By Andrew Andrews

George(Suzanna Hay) and Joy (Kittson O’Neill) share a moment of clarity as they look each other in the eyes in Unraveled at the Clurman Theatre. Original photo by Michael Kushner.

As the nation’s median age continues to rise, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to double, and other neurodegenerative diseases will grow along with them.

That sucks for the people who will suffer the diseases first hand.

But it sucks even more for friends and family members that will have to watch them suffer, living with different people taking over the bodies of the loved ones they used to know.

Enter Joy (Kittson O’Neill), a professor who’s spent her entire life looking for answers to the question of existence, and her aging mother George (Suzanna Hay), whose recent bout with cancer has left her with “chemo brain,” seemingly causing her to dance around the garden exposing herself to the neighbors, unable to recognize Joy as her daughter.

And enter Anna (LaDonna Burns), the hospice care nurse who “sees people for who they are” and tries to convince Joy that the situation will be a lot easier if Joy learns to see George “how she is, not how she used to be.”

But Joy can’t seem to do it.

Instead, she flashes back to the days when she was nine years old, and a much younger George (Lori Hammel) dances with her to (totally apropos) Joni Mitchell.

And to age seventeen, when George tried to convince her to go to the prom, or she’d regret not going for the rest of her life.

And age fourteen, and… well, you get the picture.

And then there’s Joy’s teaching assistant, Michael (Maxwell Eddy), who’s fallen in love with Joy at the worst possible moment—when Joy only needs him to cover for her sudden disappearances, and to help take her mind off her mother with clandestine rendezvous for sex.

Director Kathryn MacMillan has everyone in Jennifer Blackmer’s story down to a tee: from Hay’s convincing portrayal of a woman who seems lost in her own mind, to O’Neill’s big thinker who can’t see the trees for the forest, to Eddy’s oblivious obsession, to Hammel’s perfect rendition of a working single mother.

But if we could hand out only one award for the entire show, it would have to go to Burns, for her utterly convincing portrayal of the wisest of them all.

Put them all together, and there’s an important lesson here for everyone facing the passage of time.

So check it out, then come back and let us know how close this story brought you to tears.

Your reviews help others decide whether Unraveled is a lesson worth learning, and your ratings help us help you find future performances you’re sure to love!

Andrew Andrews attended Unraveled at Theatre Row in Manhattan on Friday, September 7, 2018 @ 7:00pm to write this review.