According to the nonprofit Alzheimer's Association there are approximately 5.4 million Americans that live with Alzheimer's disease, and two-thirds of them (3.4 million) are women. In terms of mortality it is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA; and for those ages 65 and over it's the fifth leading cause of death. Considering that one of every eight Americans has this disease, it is more common than we perhaps realize. Even more troubling, it's the only one of the country's top 10 causes of death for which there is no cure or prevention.
For award-winning Michigan playwright Kim Carney the devastating effects of Alzheimer's is something experienced close to the bone, as her mother developed the disease and also died from it. Consequently, her response to this condition translated into Moonglow - a bittersweet comic drama about a senior man and woman with Alzheimer's, along with their children and caregivers.
As Bay City Players embark upon their amazing 96th season with a production of Moonglow that will run from October 18-27th with showtimes Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM, the intimacy of the theatrical stage at 1214 Columbus Avenue in Bay City is a perfect setting to deliver the poignant and purposeful revelations that Carney imparts with her carefully considered and deeply personal play.
In Moonglow, an adult daughter, Diane, makes the difficult decision to put her mother, Maxine, into a nursing home. Around the same time a character named Joe puts himself in the same facility, as he finds himself failing - much to the ire of his adult son, Greg. As Joe and Maxine both revert back to their youth in the 1940s, they begin to see each other as their first loves from that time - and the younger versions of Maxine and Joe, replete with dancing and dialogue, mirror that of the older couple as Carney gives audiences a glimpse into the mind of people afflicted with this horrible disease.
For Director Tina Sills, there are several qualities about this remarkable play that distinguish it and contribute to the overall impact that it carries upon an audience. “Although Alzheimer's disease and dozens of other types of dementia are serious subjects, playwright Kim Carney has treated the topic with respect, humor, pathos, and empathy. Her characters are genuine, the situations she outlines are genuine, and the changes and realizations each character experiences exhibit very real life situations, which allows the audience to experience a similar range of emotions.”
While she says that technically Moonglow is not a difficult play to produce, for Sills as a director the real challenge is to mediate the emotional range each actor brings to their role. “At one moment there is a high level of frustration, followed by relief, followed by humor; and then anger. It's a rollercoaster for the actors and it can't be presented at one emotional level throughout. Fortunately, we have an experienced group of actors who understand the challenges and can bring to each character the right balance.”
Veteran actors Leeds & Margaret Bird of Bay City portray the central characters of Maxine and Joe. Each actor must show the progression of the disease over the length of the play. Maxine's daughter Diane is played by Debbie Iocono-Lake of Saginaw, with Joe's son Greg portrayed by Kurt Miller of Bay City.
“Their frustration and a connection built upon shared experiences is one story line,” explains Sills, “and the other is Maxine and Joe's relationship, built partly in the here and now, and perhaps more importantly, in the past during WWII. Their younger selves are played by Kate Sarafoleanof Midland and David Newsham of Bay City; and Carney has used the clever device of showing us young and old Maxine and Joe at the same time, so we can see what each character is thinking as the action progresses. They dance, sing, and fade in and out, which is symptomatic of the disease.”
“Trying to bring some calm and reality to the entire situation is Buckingham Home director Benita, played by Debra Escot-Monroe of Bay City. Health care workers will bond especially with Benita, who must maintain her composure while meeting the demands of families and patients. Her main frustration lies in trying to get Diane and Greg to realize that dementia is unremittingly progressive; the parents of these children will not ever return to 'being themselves.'”
Are there elements about Alzheimer's that Sills feel audiences will learn from, or glean a different understanding or sensibility from this production? “This is the point and strength of the play,” she states. “Kim Carney has managed to provide with sensitivity some important lessons about dementia. For the caregivers, it's okay to feel frustrated by your loved one's actions and decline. Hold on to the good moments - yes, there will be some. But remember that what may sound like anger at you coming from your loved one is really the dementia taking over. It's very hard, but you can't take it personally. With education and support, the challenges can be less burdensome.”
“When Bay City Players sent out a request for directors for this season premier of Moonglow, it really intrigued me,” concludes Sills. “For the last 38 years I have spent my professional life in Human Services as a Therapist and Trainer/Consultant. I have always been encouraged by the human spirit and the capability we have to continue in the face of illness, especially one that so affects our relationships with those that we love.”
“I see Moonglow as a tribute to those who have Alzheimer's and those who care for them and I feel privileged to bring it to our stage.”
Tickets for Moonglow are available at baycityplayers.com or by calling 989-893-5555 or dropping by the box office at 1214 Columbus Avenue in Bay City.