The play “Do Not Go Gentle,” written in 1996 by Suzan Zeder, takes its title from the Dylan Thomas poem. “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” These words were also embraced by the funny and vibrant 84-year-old Lillian (the fabulous Hillary Mazer) who has recently died from a heart attack in her home of 57 years. It seems there are some unresolved issues and Lillian remains as a ghost when her family arrives to sort through her things the night before the estate sale run by Mildred Flumac (the hilarious Emma Hawthorn). Discussions about Lillian and certain objects (old photographs, unopened letters, or a box of items that were returned to Lillian after her husband died in a previous war when Windsor was only five) spark memories. These memories are acted out as scenes move seamlessly—under the direction of Alanna Kiewe—from the present, to the past, and back again.
…the show belongs to Mazer as the powerful and strong Lillian.
Lillian had been living on her own in the house and, like the neighborhood around her, the home had seen better days. The walls have been painted over with all sorts of words and imagery which are left covered until the end. Some are violent, some symbolic, but every one has a story to tell. As we find out, a neighborhood boy named Nobody (Gurtejan Swaich)—who spray paints bad (and misspelled) words on her fence and finds a way to sneak into her house—is anything but the hoodlum he appears to be. Lillian’s closest relative is her niece, Joanna (Shannon Willing), who used to visit and also seek advice after Lillian decided to become an erstwhile fortune teller, crystal ball and all.
Lillian was estranged from her son, Windsor (Kingston Bowen), a pilot and colonel in the Air Force, who has had to move his family all over the world as his job required. This includes his tween/teen daughter, Kelly (Sam Klarner), with whom Lillian had been very close until an argument before her death. The story is also set against the eve of the first Iraq war when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991. Windsor is currently stationed in Germany and anxious about the news.
As we discover, Lillian was fiercely anti-war and anti-violence which explains the dynamic of the relationship with her son. She was also kind, generous, and full of life. Kelly just wants to stay in one place and thinks that an angry letter she sent her grandmother is responsible for her death. Nobody feels invisible just like Lillian does at times, as so many older people often do. In the end, this is a story of hope, reconciliation, and the healing power of words and art.
The costumes by Nora Bizzel and Kiewe are early 90s appropriate. Despite the feeling that there should have been more boxes for the estate sale, the set and props (thanks to scenic artist Alan Zemla and prop designers Kiewe and Kai DonDero) are very simple to allow the actors to move easily through each scene.
Overall, the cast does a good job. Klarner and Swaich capture the typical teenager perfectly, including sometimes talking too fast. Though true to life, for the theater, they need to slow it down just a bit so lines don’t get lost. All the adults are solid as well, but the show belongs to Mazer as the powerful and strong Lillian. We should all hope to “rage against the dying of the light.”
Running time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.
“Do Not Go Gentle” runs through March 19, 2023 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. For more information and tickets, go online. Masks must be worn inside the lobby and theater.