Kristine Thatcher is an icon in the Lansing theater community. We’ve watched her grow from a local ingénue, to a mature actress and theater professional.
So, it is fitting that the Michigan premier of her autobiographical play, “The Safe House” should take place at the newly refurbished Williamston Theatre.
It’s a play that touches the hearts of many people because of the sincere, honest and straightforward way it tackles the difficult issues of families dealing with grandparents with diminishing functions.
The play takes place in Lansing, and it is fun to hear the characters talk about local places.
It opens with Bridget (a wonderfully expressive Dani Cochrane) coming home to Lansing after struggling to make a living as an actress in New York as well as attempting to make a second marriage work. Neither are going so well.
She’s pretty and perky and is thrilled to see her grandmother, Hannah (Karen Sheridan), again. She remembers her as a tough owner of a tavern downtown but always a great supporter of her theatrical ambitions.
Although Hannah is past retirement age, she is still feisty, full of energy, and enjoys a good laugh.
But something is wrong.
Bridget notices some lapses in her grandmother’s demeaner. She forgets things, is confused about her medications and is very angry that her son, Matt (Tobin Hissong), is pushing for her to move into a retirement center.
Although Bridget sees the problems, she feels that her spunky grandmother is in pretty good shape and should stay in her home. But we also understand that there are other reasons for the young actress to come back to Lansing and wants her grandmother to be clear-minded.
The action takes place in Hannah’s house and scenic designer Gabriella Csapo has created a realistic and beautifully designed living space.
The first act is slow moving but Thatcher does a fine job of building these characters. It helps that the three Equity actors are all superb and are totally immersed in their characters.
Karen Sheridan takes over the stage when she is exploring Hannah’s complex personality. She mostly does a fine job with Hannah’s German accent, but really shines at displaying her strength, sense of humor and her surprisingly good dancing and singing talents. Sheridan’s face is a canvas of many emotions.
She is an ultimately likeable character, which makes the process of pushing her out of her beloved house to move to a retirement center, a difficult problem.
Although “The Safe House” is sentimental, it is never melodramatic or over wrought. These characters are people with whom we can all we can all empathize.
There is no bad guy here. And if you are at a certain age, this material is all too close. The dialogue is totally believable. Never once does Thatcher give characters words that waver from reality.
Which is why the story has such an emotional impact on the audience. The plot is whisper thin and has few surprises but it’s authentic and relatable.
Kristine Thatcher has indeed written a beautiful play and Williamston has treated it with the sensitivity it deserves.
The Safe House plays at the Williamston theater until November 3rd. For information and tickets consult their website at www.williamstontheatre.org or (517) 655-SHOW (7469)