Death Tax

The Pillsbury Production of Death Tax: Living On

By ADAM SCHENCK and BECKY HALAT

Imagine a world where instead of death being the great equalizer, one can live on—“be preserved”—if one has the money to maintain care. Lucas Hnath’s script offers a somewhat frightening look at the future of elder care, showing the awkward discussions that would inevitably become necessary. Death beaten back, if only temporarily, is a compelling theme.

Director Hayley Finn praises the prosody of dramatist Lucas Hnath’s dialogue in Death Tax, but these critics reserve higher praise for the lack of sentimentality present in the text. True, all four actors get to riff with Hnath’s impressive wordplay, but in all honesty, how often do we see the harmless old lady play the villain?

The acting in this production is impressive and the language is precise, yes. But somehow Hnath’s script fails the actors in this Pillsbury production. The set is sparse; we see a nursing home where the elderly go to be preserved instead of to die.

A minimalist set certainly can be part of an excellent production, but the acting needs to compensate. While the actors do yeomans’ work, the minimalist script fails their efforts. The motivations of the characters are not fully fleshed out. These critics had difficulty understanding what motivated each character.

We never understand why Maxine (Wendy Lehr) seeps in aged anger or why Todd (Clarence Wethern) so easily and dramatically shifts from lust to greed. In all, the characters’ actions and impulses do not seem cohesive. While they could both be understood as complicated and human, their contradictions come across as confusing.

All the characters get monologues, but only Tina (Regina Marie Williams) is given the background to explain her motivations. Yet even with her, the twist at the end isn’t sufficiently explained or satisfactory.

For these critics, the most disappointing element of the play is the underutilization of Daughter (Tracey Maloney), who only contributes to one of the five scenes in this 90-minute play. In the end, exemplary acting (particularly on the part of Wendy Lehr) and a captivating theme was unfortunately not enough to make up for the script itself.

Death Tax plays March 6 – April 5, 2015, at Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. All tickets are pick-your-price (regular price = $25), and available at pillsburyhousetheatre.org, 612-825-0459, or 612-787-3622 (for group sales).

Free child care, provided by the staff of Pillsbury Early Education Center, available for the 7:30 performance on March 13 and the 3:00 performance on March 22. Audio-description will be available for the 7:30 performance on March 27. ASL interpretation available for the 7:30 performance on March 28. Post-show discussions with community partners will be held after several performances and will focus on end-of-life care and directives, with times to be determined.

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