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SAT play hits close to home (the old folks' home)

by: Lisa K. Anderson Rose, played by Lexy Dillon, keeps her spirit when hospitalized for Alzheimer's. Here she is flanked, from left, by Walter, played by Glenn Russell; Dr. Phillis, played by Carita Louise Gilmore; and Monica, played by Rebecca Tyree.

'Assisted Living,' playing through July 2 at Sandy Actors Theatre, hits close to home. Especially close to the old folks' home.

Gray heads in the audience nodded in agreement Saturday night during the performance of Rich Rubin's play about Rose, a finger-pointing school teacher and a combative conversationalist, who at 83 is in the early stages of Alzheimer's and is not going down without a fight.

The production of 'Assisted Living,' which won the Sandy Actor's Theatre playwriting contest, is in its West Coast debut.

Rubin, director Jim Wilhite and the cast stayed on stage Saturday night to discuss the play, how it was written, how it was staged and how it appeals to the cast.

But first, 'Assisted Living' came to a black stage, unadorned, except for the most necessary props. The centerpiece is acerbic, contrary Rose, superbly played by Lexy Dillon. (Dillon admitted after the performance that the play motivated her to make out her will.)

Rose is funny and sad. She keeps mixing up her words, Vitalis and Viagra. She is aggravating and a pain in the butt to her children. Her personality improves only when she has the inevitable fall and ends up in the hospital enjoying cable TV and morphine.

Jim Lamproe, his slumped postures betraying the frustrations in dealing with his mom, is her long-suffering son, and Catherine Fritts is Sandy, the gifted, busy daughter breezing in from out of town, as domineering as her mother and the one you know you hate. Monique Johnson, is Eileen, the daughter-in-law, completing the family and in the end among the most compassionate.

'Just like a day at work,' said one person in the audience who works in an eldercare facility. Rubin admitted, in a talk at the end of the play, that his drama about a family dealing with Alzheimer's came to a point where he didn't know how to conclude it.

A retired physician, Rubin found a way, and latecomers to the stage - grandson, Doug and physical therapist Monica, played by Rebecca Tyree - make a difference.

In conversation on stage after the performance, Fritts, who plays the irritating Sandy, revealed that she cared for two parents with Alzheimer's, and her experience with her family was totally different than the one portrayed with Rose.

The able supporting cast included Glenn Russell, Rudy Wilson and Carita Louise Gilmore.

The play, both painful and funny, is well worth a Friday or Saturday evening, or a Sunday matinee and another indication of the growing muscle of the acting company at Sandy.