Death Tax is worth every cent.
Edmonds Driftwood Players’ Theatre of Intriguing Possibilities presents Death Tax, a play by Lucas Hnath. Under the direction of Curtis Rawls, the production runs from now until Oct. 27 — on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. With a $20 adult and $18 Jr/Sr/Military ticket price, this show is a bargain at that price and a value in entertainment.
The play opens in December of 2010, when the full repeal of the estate tax set to begin in the new year 2011. Maxine, in her infirmed state, believes her daughter is paying her caregiver, Nurse Tina, to end her life before the month is over to avoid a hefty tax bill out of her inheritance. Maxine convinces Nurse Tina to help her make it through to the new year in exchange for a sizeable portion of her estate. Tina takes the deal, though Maxine’s suspicions were never founded in reality. Nothing goes according to plan, of course, when Todd — the nursing home’s manager — becomes ensnared in the plot.
Edmonds Driftwood Players production quality shines again with this simply staged work. With its plain, flat backdrop of bedroom walls, the wainscot surrounded room and its single door, the set design is intentionally neutral and plain, stark and minimal. This draws the focus to the characters, the dialogue and the story.
The four-person cast consists of actors well-equipped to convey the story. Carol Richmond, playing the infirm Maxine, is a veteran of Driftwood stage, appearing in numerous past productions. On stage from under the covers of her hospital bed, Maxine’s delusions appear as emotionally-charged desperation. Believing her daughter is trying to have her killed, her dialogue is tinged with conspiring thoughts, illogical rantings, and a creeping sense of dementia.
Cara Thomas, playing Nurse Tina and social worker Candice, delivers the bulk of the story. Her scenes with the patient, her supervisor and the daughter carry the dramatic arc of the production. With volumes of dialogue to deliver, this actor truly tells the story. She offers the narrative insight to each scene, emotional passages recalling her own family, and the delicate balance of the negotiation between death and life.
Curtis Rawls, in his directorial debut with this production of Death Tax, noted the demands of this production and its actors, and the challenges of this script. “From the monologues that delve deep into the characters’ inner turmoil, to the rat-a-tat verbal sparring, to the almost musical script notations, this play asks a lot of its cast, and ours delivered,” he said. With choices to make regarding staging, lighting and the overall appearance of the production, Rawls certainly plays to the production’s strengths — its actors.
James Hamilton, in the role of the nursing home manager Todd and ultimately Charley the grandson, handles the most significant character transformation. Hamilton’s character work was both effective and believable. In scenes with Nurse Tina, his genuine portrayal of negotiation and supplication was both intriguing and uncomfortable. Though double cast as the grandson to Maxine, his physical transformation and well-developed character portrayal was immediately believable and sympathetic.
Kris “Pepper” Hambrick, as the daughter, has a significant burden to bear. As the audience learns more about her from her mother Maxine, she is left with misunderstood and misdirected motives through all of this. Hambrick’s portrayal of the estranged daughter further enables the character its her relationship minefield with her mother. With all the negotiating and explanations, the dialogue and character demands of the actor is well suited to this actor’s ability.
With a production team led by Director Rawls, the Edmonds Driftwood Players deliver on a standard built over time. Their organization’s mission is achieved here, as they strive to produce live theatre that entertains, enriches and engages the community. The audience responded with interest and an investment in the story as it unfolded.
Edmonds Driftwood Players is in residence at the Wade James Theatre at 950 Main St. in Edmonds. As part of TIPs (Theatre of Intriguing Possibilities) programming, and billed as “Theater that makes you think,” these smaller works are more challenging, original or edgy, and typically run for one to two weekends. This final weekend of performances of Death Tax should not be missed.
Edmonds Driftwood Players, TIPs
(Theater of Intriguing Possibilities)
Runs until Oct. 27 – Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m.
Wade James Theatre
950 Main St
General $20, Senior/Youth/Military $18
— By Royce Napolitino