Losing Your Grip ― The Deeply Affecting ‘Taking Leave’ Examines a Mind in Decline

by Adam McKinney

Dukesbay Theater has long been a gem in the Tacoma area, using its little black box theater as a venue to host daring works from playwrights both local and international. In addition to the canny way the theater selects its plays, the main thing that sets Dukesbay aside from other production houses is its intimacy — the way it sits you right in the middle of the action.

Left to right: Pamela Roza (Mrs. Fleming), Kerry Bringman (Eliot), Jasmine Jaqua (Liz), Cara Hazzard (Alma)

This aspect is especially effective in Nagle Jackson’s Taking Leave, a show that not only depicts a man descending into the throes of Alzheimer’s, but gives us a glimpse into his mind’s final moments of connection. Eliot (Kerry Bringman) was once a college professor who specialized in dissecting the works of Shakespeare.

left to right: Kerry Bringman (Eliot), Mykahla George (Cordelia)

Now, he’s mostly a shell of his former self, confused and frightened, finding solace in brief interludes into his younger life. His long-suffering nurse, Mrs. Fleming (Pamela Roza), has seen this behavior many times before. Soon, Eliot’s three daughters, Alma (Cara Hazzard), Liz (Jasmine Jaqua), and Cordelia (Mykahla George) will arrive to try and figure out what to do with their ailing old man.

And then there’s that other Eliot (W. Scott Pinkston), the embodiment of the first Eliot’s mind — the part of Eliot that still knows what’s what, but also knows that eventually he will also have to go. Eliot-1 (as he’s credited in the playbill) speaks directly to the audience, giving us a bit of insight into the person he used to be, as his present self babbles and suffers in a world of aching abstraction. Pinkston has the task of letting us in on what this man used to be, while mourning that the man is soon to be no more.

Bringman’s performance, it must be said, is remarkable. This is a man who stops and starts so many trains of thoughts, bouncing back and forth between agony and elation. Eliot has access to areas of his mind that were once dominated by academia, and he had areas of his mind that delight in the immature joys of childhood, and he still has areas that are deathly afraid of these people that he does indeed know but still feels he’s never met. There are times when this act is funny, but many more times when it is utterly heartbreaking, especially if you’ve known people in a similar state.

left to right: Kerry Bringman (Eliot), W. Scott Pinkston (Eliot-1)

Hazard, Jaqua, and George work wonderfully well together as the daughters of Eliot, separated not only by age but by radically different personalities. Alma, seemingly the most normal of the bunch, is plagued by fears that she was never intellectual enough for her family; Liz, a working actress in Hollywood, has spent her whole life striving to get to the top, and still feels that stress when it comes to taking care of their father; and Cordelia, the youngest, has enjoyed the most comfortable relationship with their dad, even as she galivants across Europe and tests her limits with drug and drink.

We’ve seen many shows at the Dukesbay Theater, but this reviewer is enthusiastic enough to say that this may be one of the best they’ve ever staged. Funny when it needs to be, devastating in its totality (but with a little wink of optimism at the end), and marked by outstanding performances, Taking Leave is a wonderful show that director Melanie Gladstone has put on. With a couple more weekends left to go, get on in there and feel, in real time, the sensation of watching someone’s mind pick up its bags and leave.

Photos by Jason Ganwich courtesy Dukesbay Theater.

Taking Leave

March 22 – April 7, Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m..

Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave # 10, Tacoma



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