I Need Your Hand on My Heart: “Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends”

Presented by ArtsEmerson and Sleeping Weasel
Written by Charlotte Meehan
Directed by Tara Brooke Watkins
Choreographed by Peter DiMuro
Videography by Lee Francois
Original composition “Alone Together” by Kirsten Volness

Live: March 12 – March 27, 2022
Streamed: April 1 – 10, 2022
Emerson Paramount Center
Jackie Liebergott Black Box
559 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, Mass. — Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends by Charlotte Meehan is about people. People are confusing, leaky, wonderful, breakable creatures capable of great love and harrowing despair. 

This play is also about disability. We are introduced to Meehan’s characters and their relationships, and then we learn about their relationships to Parkinson’s Disease. People with disabilities are human first so it is right that we learn the world of the play in this order. 

In Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends, three imperfect couples navigate their relationships. We watch them live with Parkinson’s Disease. The persons with PD are surviving. The caretakers are too. Survival means something different to each couple. We learn what survival means at the same time they do. 

The couples are joined by two elegant dancers (Christina R Chan & Emily Costa). They broadcast the unspoken experiences of the couples. Like emotional barometers, they measure tension and pressure as it fluctuates through the performance. 

The Mayo Clinic website says that Parkinson’s Disease is a “progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms start gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.”

The three couples; Photo by David Marshall.

The disease is named after James Parkinson, the English physician who wrote a paper called “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy” in 1817. Parkinson’s name wasn’t attached to the chronic neurologic condition until Dr. Prof. Jean-Martin Charcot suggested its use 50 years later. 

Charismatic actor, activist and rich person Michael J Fox is one of the most famous people to have Parkinson’s. Fox is transparent with his diagnosis and generous in his work through the Michael J Fox Foundation. But, Fox has access to treatments that the average person does not. 

PD is a lifelong and progressive disease. A team of people makes Fox pretty for TV and events. If it costs a lot of money to maintain an abled Hollywood star’s appearance, one can only imagine what kind of maintenance Mr. Fox requires. 

I mention this because disability is physically and emotionally messy. Most people are familiar with the PD tremor but don’t realize that the tremor can be accompanied by slowness and stiffness. Parkinson’s can cause constipation, depression, and memory problems. 

People with PD fall; they bleed; they get lost in public; they forget where they are; they are impulsive. Meehan captures all of this and puts it in her play. She condenses the truth for the stage, but she doesn’t adulterate it. Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends is not easy to watch, and it is truthful.  

Sleeping Weasel did its work when it created this production. Disability activists, disabled performers, and invested persons can rest assured that Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends worked with the PD community to create this work. One has to examine the show credits to do so, but Sleeping Weasel’s research is there. 

It would behoove ArtsEmerson to include a note in their online program revealing Sleeping Weasel’s dramaturgical process the next time around. An online program has fewer space restrictions than a physical playbill. Not including a note about our community is a slight we are likely to remember. 

A show like this will draw persons from the disability community. We are looking for markers to show and tell us that this production was created with and for our community. We are hoping that producers make it obvious so we can relax into the performance. As we say, nothing about us without us.  

Dancers in blue with actors; Photo by David Marshall.

Sleeping Weasel’s cast, crew and designers have done some gorgeous creative work on this show. I could go on for pages and pages about their great work. You are appreciated even if I don’t mention you by name. 

Everyone is at risk of disability. Whether by age, accident, or genetics, one day our body’s abilities will change. Treat people who are disabled/differently-abled with compassion now while it is convenient. One day it may be you, dear reader, who wishes the world was more compassionate to your mobility needs. 

Public Health Information: Proof of vaccination is required for entry to all events.  According to the CDC, “full COVID-19 vaccination” means one dose of a single-shot regimen, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two doses of an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer or Moderna. Currently, booster shots are not required under the new policy, according to the City.

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