“Shelley’s Shadow” Shines in World Premiere at BST

Shelley’s Shadow, by Brad Fraser is a play commissioned by Bridge Street Theatre making its World Premiere, and it just might be the first in a new genre in theater known as a Covid Play. Just like the theater world has been energized and revitalized by plays tackling contemporary subjects which are now grouped together as Viet Nam plays or AIDS plays, Shelley’s Shadow is the first play that I’ve seen that features the pandemic in the action of its play. But it’s not just the disease itself which makes this fascinating play vital, but it is the isolation, fear, and despair of its characters requiring the courage and warmth of fellow humans reaching out with ministration, service and selflessness which raise this play to greatness.

Steven Patterson, Bridge Street’s Associate Director, plays David, a writer at a crossroads living in a high-rise in Toronto which he can barely afford. He is challenged, having gone back to school for another degree to lift him up from the adjunct positions at community colleges that pay just above minimum wage. He meets Shelley (Janet Keller) and her dog, Shadow, played with curiosity and friskiness by Daniel Hall Kuhn.

They make small talk, bump into each other in a few more brief scenes and soon David, an avowed cat person, has the key to Shelley’s penthouse apartment so he can take Shadow on his afternoon walk. Shadow magically confides to David in a doleful voice that he has lost his mistress’s favor “I fade in her eyes.” The two form an unbreakable attachment, and soon David is drawn in and providing all sorts of needed services to the elderly Shelley-feeding, dressing and moving her.

Janet Keller, Steven Patterson

Shelley has dementia and the neighborly tasks David has voluntarily committed to slowly become overwhelming, so he looks for help from outside sources – nurse’s aides, institutions and us, the audience, who are his social media friends who he directly addresses throughout. The play does a terrific job with the passage and the relentless falling sands of time.

Patterson heroically bounds across the evocative four levels of the set (effectively designed by the director and Artistic and Managing Director of the theater, John Sowle) driving the play with an urgency that escalates with Shelley’s medical condition. He is fantastic in this play, eyes blazing with concern, or his body slumped with the exhaustion of a caregiver and finally brought low by his moral failings. He is the neighbor with a thousand kindnesses we will all need late in our life.

Steven Patterson, Daniel Hall Kuhn, Janet Keller

Janet Keller is lovely as Shelley, friendly and open at the top of the play and frighteningly mean, demanding and perplexed when the fog descends. Hall Kuhn is as much fun as you think a grown man playing a dog would be. Dressed all in black with a raggedy tail and his face made up, his joy and zest for life are most often communicated with his large expressive eyes.

The play is unique in its portrayal of two elderly gay characters, it’s matter of factual magical leap of having a talking dog and especially for its radical compassion. Anyone who has cared for someone with Alzheimer’s, which I would imagine is a growing majority of us, will immediately recognize the path and its attendant joys and heartbreaks. You may find yourself tearing up as you laugh in recognition.

What an extraordinary gift Bridge Street has bestowed on us, the Capital Region theater loving audience, by commissioning this curative work of simple human decency in the face of life’s horrifying ravages. It is well worth attending and expressing your deep appreciation for the things that bind us together.

Through 9/18 @ Bridge Street Theatre

Tickets: www.bridgestreettheatre.org

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