Humor and poignancy mingle in a superb ‘Ordinary Day’

Napa Valley Register Review, rosemarie kempton, October 10, 2018

Is a play that focuses on Alzheimer’s disease and “dying well or badly” — something most of us try not to think about — one I’ll recommend to my friends?

I’ll admit that before seeing the world premiere of “Ordinary Day,” written by Bay Area playwright Lorraine Midanik, I would not have given an affirmative answer to that question.

Last Saturday night’s outstanding performance by members of Valley Players, directed by June Alane Reif, convinced me to strongly encourage others to see this worthwhile play that gently raises issues that need to be addressed.

A minute before the opening scene at the Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, the audience was told that it would be “OK to laugh” because the humor and poignancy in “Ordinary Day” were woven together.

My husband and others in the audience visibly relaxed after hearing that and, throughout the unfolding of Midanik’s play, there were times we all laughed as well as times I cried.

Henry and Maggie’s long-term marriage is challenged with Henry’s Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory problems, sleeping pills and an agreement swirl around the lives of Henry (Zachary Stockton) and Maggie (Karen Stern) as they struggle with their future. Stockton and Stern are superbly convincing in their roles of husband and wife.

The couple’s agreement is that when Henry forgets Maggie’s name, she will allow him to end his life on his own terms.

They are frustrated that the recently passed physician-assisted suicide laws do not apply to Henry. So Maggie, determined to collect enough sleeping pills for Henry to end his life, tries to manipulate her psychiatrist, Dr. Goldsmith (Barbara Nemko) for more prescriptions.

Maggie is getting close to having 200 pills, the number Henry will need, when Dr. Goldsmith cuts back the prescription. Dr. Goldsmith and Maggie exchange witty dialogue.

Dr. Goldsmith and the couple’s daughter, Josie, (Debbie Baumann) as well as their neighbor, Doreen, (Patte Quinn) try to make Maggie understand that taking care of Henry is destroying her health and that she “looks terrible.”

Maggie continues to be a supportive partner despite its impact on her physical and emotional health.

Henry continuously calls a plumber in the middle of the night, the “toilet is talking to him” and he can’t be left alone, yet there are times when he and his wife enjoy the kind of conversations they had before his disease.

Their daughter wants to help but her nagging is disruptive, and she no longer lets her children see their grandfather.

Maggie navigates the fine line between enabling her husband to carry out his end-of-life decision and her own need to be with him for “just a little while longer.” When that time arrives, on an ordinary day, when Henry feels strong enough to go through with his plans, Maggie cannot accept their agreement.

In one scene, Henry and Maggie give a hint of what ”dying well” could be like as they dance to the music popular in their youth and have a glass of wine while their dinner heats in the oven.

The five cast members give incredible performances in this unusual play asks audiences to wonder if it wouldn’t be more humane for people to have more control over their own death – to plan to die well.

After the show, a group of us met in the lobby to talk. Many shared their experience in dealing with parents suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

An invitation is extended after each show for discussions led by a Valley Players Board member. The cast is joined by one or more special guests including: Lois Wolk (co-author of the End of Life Option Act), Bob Nations (CEO, Senior Helpers North Bay), Dr. Peter Morero (Owner, Senior Helpers Wine Country) and Lorraine Midanik (Playwright).