So balanced in the writing. So very worth the ticket.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand at the tail end of its run at Theatre of Note is a tender, unexpected triumph.
Our lives can change in an instant. One moment you’re engaged, and a few surreal moments later you’re sitting among a group of strangers in an intensive care waiting room, praying your fiancé will survive.
The story begins with the prayer of a hopeful son for a beloved mother in a hospital ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and in a coma, as a result of a brain aneurism. Describing his mother, Mary Jean, as she “was,” a soft-spoken, perfect and often subtly, comical woman, hot for the Beatles in her day, Paul, a high school English teacher, just needs to talk to someone “bigger than himself.” It is very private and very awkward. Praying is not something he ever really did in his home growing up. And so he is open and completely vulnerable and it leads us to believe that this will be a very toned down show.
Ada, a self-proclaimed, “terrible person” also stands alone in a private room uncomfortable forming the words to speak to a higher power. In the most intimate and excruciating of moments she confesses the darkest parts of herself and her love for a man who may not wake up, also ordering him to hear her as she calls out his name.
One is pleading the other is screaming for a miracle hoping to end the agony of waiting for loved ones to possibly die even when they convince themselves there is hope.
What comes as a truly gorgeous surprise, however, is that life does not end here, for anyone. How I Wanna Hold Your Hand trumps, what could play out as merely as heart-string puller, is that it is an authentically human experience, as are each of the remaining characters of the story.
Four people, Paul, his sister Julia, her husband Josh and Ada meet in the ICU. Brother, sister and brother-in-law are diverting themselves with sandwich bets, cards and guessing games as they patiently wait for their mother to awaken when suddenly Ada storms in to find her fiancé, Frank, newly arrived with a similar condition. Inside the waiting room over the course of many days, they develop and off-handed acquaintanceship which outside of the hospital walls eventually becomes rather something else with every one of them, much of it secret.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand, has plenty of surprises humorous and downright shocking from Mary Jean’s (mom) new personality and outspoken sexual awakening to Josh and M.J.’s head to head combat to Frank’s hard-core honesty about his new limitations to all of their attractions for each other.
In many ways, this is a very adult growing up story. Each one of them has to face a new and rough reality, which as the adults they are, manage at least on the surface…all but Julia.
What is interesting about the writing is that Paul, Ada, Josh, Frank even Mary Jean, come to a resolution, at least an understanding, finding a way to come to terms with their new lives. They look forward. They move on.
Julia however, is stuck in time looking backward and trying to stay on an even plane. She somehow works hard to not feel anything and yet she’s dealt with the worst blows of all because of her refusal to budge. She wants her mother back – as she was. She wants to stay in the moment when she thought that Frank had an attraction to her. She wants to keep Ada as her friend. She doesn’t want to really understand why her husband left her. In some ways she wants to live the lie.
It’s not complicated, it’s just the way things are, the way people are, sometimes really clear, sometimes very confused. It is the beauty of this story and the reason we can genuinely empathize with each person even in moments of wrong-doing or denial or outlandish behavior. Overall, I Wanna Hold Your Hand contains so much hope and love and new beginnings and is absolutely comforting. Well-thought out, rooted, artistic writing, capturing the laughable and sometimes dark complexities of human nature.
Written by Erik Patterson
Directed by McKerrin Kelly
Featuring: Keston John, Judith Ann Levitt, Alina Phelan, Kirsten Vangsness, Phil Ward and Nicholas S. Williams