ROBERT'S REVIEWS: A Weekly Theatrical Newsletter by Robert W. McDowell
Volume 1, Number 3                                               April 25, 2001

Manbites Dog Theater Company Review:
A TUNE FOR TOMMY PLUCKS AT THE AUDIENCE'S HEARTSTRINGS

    There is a fate worse than death. For many of us, it is having Alzheimer's disease. Most of us have prayed, more than once, "Oh, Lord, please don't let me lose my mind. Please don't let me forget who I am, and who my family and friends are. Please don't let me get Alzheimer's."

    Former Red Clay Ramblers co-founder Tommy Thompson, a former free-thinking philosophy student as well as a world-renowned musician, found out about the walking death of Alzheimer's the hard way. He started forgetting things--important things--and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's-like dementia in 1994. By 1998, he could not safely cross the street in front of the place where he lived in Carrboro.

    Now, Tommy Thompson lives in a long-term-care facility. How he got there, step by step, and how the strain of his worsening medical condition affected his sometimes strained relationship with his daughter, Jesse Thompson Eustice, forms the core of A TUNE FOR TOMMY.

    Eustice and Manbites Dog Theater Company's managing director Edward Hunt and artistic director Jeff Storer mined Eustice and Thompson's writings for dramatic nuggets to incorporate in this poignant musical play. David Ring and Marcia Edmundson give truly incandescent performances as Thompson and Eustice, and musicians Jonathan Byrd (guitar/vocals), Mary Charlton (banjo/vocals), Joe Newberry (guitar/banjo/fiddle/vocals) and Todd Woerner (banjo/fiddle) give the audience a nice taste of the old-time string music that Thompson played so well with the Red Clay Ramblers and the Hollow Rock String Band.

    Ring is one of the Triangle's finest character actors. In A TUNE FOR TOMMY, he superbly recreates Thompson's progressive physical deterioration and emotional volatility.

    Edmundson likewise demonstrates heretofore unseen depths of characterization. She splendidly portrays Eustice's filial devotion and barely suppressed frustration and heartache as she helplessly witnesses her father's growing dementia.

    Behind them is a somewhat troubled father-daughter relationship. Ahead of them is a constricted life within the limitations imposed by the long-term-care facility and the further limitations imposed by Tommy Thompson's irreversible medical condition.

    Well-meaning friends can record "a tune for Tommy," but Thompson no longer has the capacity to compose lyrics for it. The celebrated songsmith can no longer magically produce the perfect words to complement the melody.

    Aided by Barbara Dickinson (movement), director Jeff Storer superbly orchestrates the action in this world-premiere workshop production of A TUNE FOR TOMMY. He keeps his touch light as he can, and avoids the fits of anger and frustration that are also a part of Alzheimer's.

    Perhaps, as they develop this hearttugging play, playwrights Eustice, Hunt and Storer will interweave more of the dark side of Alzheimer's into this inspiring tale of daughterly devotion. Certainly, they should give greater emphasis to the spiritual dimension of the characters--to the core beliefs and other things that help them cope and persevere in an otherwise hopeless situation.

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AUTHOR: Robert W. McDowell currently covers theater for Spectator Magazine, the Triangle's leading entertainment weekly. Since 1973, he has written theater, book, and music reviews for the Raleigh News & Observer, The Raleigh Times and North Carolina Magazine. Robert's Reviews has nothing whatsoever to
do with any of the above publications. Questions or comments? E-mail RobertM748@aol.com

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