Theater Review: THE WOMAN IN THE MIRROR (Revolution Stage Company in Palm Springs)

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by Jason Mannino on March 16, 2024

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)

You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.

— George Bernard Shaw

With Avenue Q, Mid-Century Moderns, and The Boy Band Project, Palm Springs’ newest professional theater group, Revolution Stage Company (RSC), has been knocking it out of the ballpark since it launched its inaugural season this past October. Once again, RSC in collaboration with Blue Squirrel Productions has a triumph with the California premiere of Dayna Steele’s The Woman in the Mirror.

Based on Steele’s critically acclaimed 2016 book Surviving Alzheimer’s With Friends, Facebook and a Really Big Glass of Wine, the show navigates the complexities of Alzheimer’s disease with humor, heart, and pathos. When Steele’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013, she began posting online, detailing the family’s daunting, sometimes humorous, struggles. It turned her “fakebook” presence into a therapeutic community of support and information encompassing thousands of followers.

The play opens with Steele sharing a quote from First Lady Rosalynn Carter (who passed last year at 96) with which she begins all her speaking engagements: There are four kinds of people in the world, People who have been, are, or will be caregivers, and people who will need caregiving. The moment is powerful as it immediately invites the audience to open their hearts and minds and to allow themselves to be reflected in the mirror that is Steele’s heartbreaking and hopeful journey.

Steele is a rock radio hall of famer, keynote speaker, orator, author, but she will tell you herself she has never really “acted.” That is until she made the wise decision to partner with director Laura Stearns, who has been taking the local CV theater scene by storm. This is her second role as director in the CV and at RSC, having directed Dickens Writes a Christmas Carol last year. Stearns also designed the costumes, set and consulted on script development. The night I saw it she even stepped in as Assistant Stage Manager, which allowed her to show off her acting chops in several interactive moments. Stearns’ set is effective as she incorporates multiple levels to indicate different locations throughout the play.

Rebecca McWilliams adeptly takes on multiple roles in the play, including Steele’s close friend Jo and her mother Fran. Her portrayals are masterful, contributing significantly to conveying Steele’s message with a blend of sincerity, wit, and emotional depth. The synergies between director and actors are apparent and Steele can now assume the title “actress” with assurance. Under Stearns’ direction, both actors delve deep into the narrative, uncovering layers of love, pain, humor, and tragedy with remarkable sensitivity.

Steele intimately explores the emotional and often isolating path of a caregiver to enduring the “long goodbye” to navigating the plethora of challenges that arise. As a result, in this “love letter” to caregivers she also offers an informal manual and lets us know we are not alone. This was particularly clear when the woman next to me shared that “the play hit me hard” and that she was a caregiver for her mother who had a 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s and currently for her husband who is in his seventh year with the disease. Stearns too shares in her program notes that she too lost her mom and grandmother to the disease.

Alzheimer’s is pervasive throughout California, which is one of the top 3 states with the disease. Twelve to thirteen percent of people 65 or older in Riverside County have Alzheimer’s disease and 33.2% of people in Palm Springs are over 65. With these statistics Palm Springs is a perfect place for the West Coast premiere of Dayna Steele’s triumphant The Woman in the Mirror.

photos by Alan Carvalho
except top photo by Karen Alvarez

The Woman in the Mirror
Revolution Stage Company
611 S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs
check for performance dates
ends on March 31, 2024
for tickets, visit Revolution

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