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Assisted Living
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Playwright: Deirdre O'Connor. At: Profiles Theatre at Second Stage (fka Stage Left), 3408 N. Sheffield Ave. Phone: 773-549-1815;$35-$40. Runs through: Dec. 18

The siblings in Deirdre O'Connor's play may be named "Kelly," but their filial dynamic is not exclusive to Irish families: Big sister Anne was always the leader, while little brother Jimmy tagged behind. Now that they are in their 30s, with their elderly mother suffering from arthritis and dementia, Anne has assumed all household responsibilities, Jimmy's chief contribution being to withdraw, lest he inflict his clumsiness on Anne's unswerving efficiency. Intervention is clearly in order for these two stressed-out and guilt-ridden adults mired down in dysfunctional behavior patterns forged in childhood.

The first arrives with the hiring of a painfully inexperienced, barely post-adolescent home-care attendant whose determination to atone for his past mistakes is manifested in compulsive nurturing, gradually lifting some of the burden off Anne's weary shoulders. The second is a likewise young, very pregnant girlfriend whom Jimmy—no, make that "Jim"—vows to protect as a babydaddy should, even as he flounders in his efforts to carry out his intentions. Will this confluence heal the conflicts that harry this beleaguered clan—whose members include, though we never see them, the ill-tempered matriarch and the unborn addition called only "the belly" by its prospective parents?

Of course, they do! Levi is someone on which Anne can rely. Christina looks to Jimmy as somebody to be relied upon. Mother Kelly is told that she will soon have a grandchild. As everyone gradually acclimates to these unfamiliar roles, Anne and Jimmy come to see each other as the individuals they are, rather than the unfinished people they were. Thus it is that when evidence of human imperfections disrupt their newfound serenity, rather than lament the inevitable betrayal, they are able to forgive one another and bond in mutual support.

Profiles Theatre, renowned for hard-hitting drama, now demonstrates its prowess with softer material, lending to the Kellys' progress a forthright candor deftly impeding any propensity toward cloying caricature. Under Joe Jahraus' direction, the quartet of Stacy Stoltz, Layne Manzer, Jordan Stacey and Shannon Hollander deliver sensitive, unmannered performances devoid of actorly swagger. Scenic designer David Ferguson's fully functional kitchen reflects domesticity gone temporarily awry, while sound designer Jeffrey Levin's score of delicate incidental music, hinting at sunshine on the horizon, promises warmth for a chilly late-fall season.

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