What happens when an illness of tsunami-like proportions lays waste to your life?
In Emilie Beck's family drama Sovereign Body, Anna (Taylor Gilbert), a chef and restaurateur, lives happily with her husband (Kevin McCorkle), mom (Bryna Weiss) and two daughters: 20-year-old Callie (Dani Stephens), bursting to be out on her own, and Evie (Hannah Mae Sturges), a brainy opinionated teenager.
A successful self-confident woman, Anna's biggest problem is communicating with the rebellious Callie, a parental task she handles effortlessly, until disease engulfs her body and her ability to act as a professional, a wife and a mother evaporates with terrifying swiftness.
Inspired by an aunt who suffers from Parkinsons, Beck's play, directed by Scott Alan Smith, aims not just to stir our compassion but to bring this experience into kaleidoscopic focus, raising questions as to how people can best hold on to their dignity in such excruciating psychological circumstances. Perhaps the production's most compelling moments are the haunting video dream sequences (credited to Darryl Johnson), in which a frightened Anna stumbles lost in a desert-like landscape.
Beck's decision to make Anna's affliction an anthropomorphic one - a handsome devilish specter (Jack Millard), visible only to her, is responsible for her pain - adds an interesting dimension, helping to lift the overwritten and somewhat contrived script out of the movie-of-the-week waters into which it frequently lapses.
Ultimately, the burden of a drama about an infirm individual is borne by the performer, and Gilbert, on opening night, was solidly on track but not yet in wow territory. Other performances hopefully might evolve with a few more days rehearsal. Worthy exceptions include Anna Carini, already terrific and on target as Anna's Bible-thumping sister-in-law, and McCorkle, who furnishes a consistently strong presence as the sick woman's loving spouse.
Stephen Gifford's set is attractive, but I'm not sure his juxtaposition of space best serves the story.
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Road Theatre Company, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.; thru May 24; (866) 811-4111, www.RoadTheatre.org.
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