The Subject Tonight is Love
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Ed Smith

Sandra Deer’s The Subject Tonight is Love, now playing at Marin Theatre in Mill Valley, is an attempt to deal with a daughter facing up to the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease in her mother. It’s a three character play with Ruby (Wanda McCaddon) as the mother and grandmother, Diana (Julia Brothers) as Ruby’s daughter and Josh (Anthony Veneziale) as her grandson. In the beginning of the play Josh informs the audience that: “Some of this is true… some of it’s made up. Like in life. Just pieces patched together. Over and unfinished.” So we immediately get the feeling that the author, Sandra Deer, is trying to make some peace with how she treated her mother in the last years of her life.

Is this a subject that translates well to the art of drama? It can if the author achieves the difficult balance of getting enough distance to process the experience with an almost brutal honesty that translates into dramatic action so that the audience is moved emotionally.

As someone who is taking care of a 90-year-old mom, I was ready to be moved to laughter and tears, but first I needed to empathize with the characters and that didn’t happen. The main problem was that Diana never seemed to change. From the beginning of the play, when her mother was still in good shape, Diana set certain limits of how far she was willing to go to help her mother, including never letting her mother live with her. She never budged from these limits no matter how her mother begged her to bring her home from the healthcare facility she was in.

I realize we all have our limitations when it comes to taking care of a sick parent, but it’s a daily battle that we wage with our own strengths and weaknesses, and there was no evidence of that battle going on in Diana or Josh’s character. Without that struggle with their own compassion and humanity, the play simply lacked the drama needed to really touch the audience.

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