‘DNR’ examines terminal perspectives


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How precious is life when one is alone and reflecting on past situations and forecasting an unknown future? How will life end? What does it entail? Will death be the answer to all questions?

The Living Room Theatre present’s the world premiere of Victor Wishna’s play, “DNR” that introduces the audience to Buddy, a crusty man at death’s doorstep, awaiting death in a hospital bed. A hospital visitor, Amanda, comes to comfort him in his final hours as he awaits the flat monitor line.

“With heart and humor, Victor Wishna’s work plumbs the depths of being alone, and being alive,” The Living Room said of it’s new production. “Amanda, a hospital volunteer with a guardian-angel complex, meets her newest assignment, Bud, a terminally ill patient with very little patience. She’s a single mom with a benevolent soul; he’s an ex-party boy Navy vet with a chip on his shoulder and one last mission to complete—and he insists it’s a solo.”

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Buddy, alone in the world, recognizes some past missteps and views his demise as something that might as well occur. Amanda, also alone, but from different circumstances survives as a victor over breast cancer. Both view death from nearly opposite perspectives. Touchingly played by Gary Neal Johnson and Jennifer Mays, the chemistry between the two grabs the audience from the opening scene as Amanda enters the room, attempting to lighten a dismal situation and circumstance. Her goal: add a ray of hope and optimism to palliative care.

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A “Do Not Resuscitate” order, a signed DNR form filled out when one enters a hospital spells out a patient’s directives so hospital staff and family know the wishes of the party in jeopardy of death. But Wishna’s play delves deeper into the psychics of his main characters. With humor and tender moments, he unmasks the inner turmoil of each character as they develop a relationship that determines no one wants to feel alone and isolated.

The play takes all attendees to that place in their lives when he or she has dealt with the passing of a loved one with a terminal illness. Hospice and palliative care practices guide not only the ill but also the survivors in confronting death and the final processes. While “DNR” takes on a dramatic tone, the skill of Wishna keeps the story lighter through carefully chosen humor and occasional light laughs, demonstrating that persons going through life passage stages still maintain happy thoughts, tender thoughts, funny thoughts, and scary thoughts. Life goes on in all situations until it ceases. Wishna shows that a wide range of emotions continue until the last breath.

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Johnson and Mays speak and create the tender, happy, funny thoughts, yet make their characters emote and swallow the scary, private thoughts. That part of their performances grabs at everyone’s heartstrings.

While Johnson and Mays remain the focus of the play, Shawna Pena-Downing delivers a supporting character that moves the play along and establishes a good, rounded character with depth and change. She has two main scenes and her character calls for her to connect immediately with her first lines. She does.

Rusty Sneary undertook this touching play and secured a very talented cast to produce the tender, poignant play that reaches far beyond the stage with its message that touches audiences. His collaboration with Wishna makes the show a guaranteed success.

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“DNR” runs about 85 minutes without an intermission. The play is broken into several scenes and flows evenly and seamlessly from one scene to the next. The set makes the audience feel inside the room as an unseen observer. The closeness of stage and audience really adds to the involvement and connection. “DNR” works to perfection in this intimate venue.

The cast is: Gary Neal Johnson as Bud McNamara, Jennifer Mays as Amanda Kalowsky, Shawna Pena-Downing as Dr. Kramer. The production team is led by Rusty Sneary, director; Ivan Dodge, stage manager; Alisa Lynn and R.H. Wilhoit, production assistants; Regina Weller and Kyle Dyck, scenic artists; Rusty Sneary and Kyle Dyck, scenic design; David Kiehl, sound design; Nicole Jaja, lighting

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design; David Kiehl and Lacey Pacheco, projections design; Shawnna Journagan, properties design; Kyle Dyck, technical director; Ben Auxier and Brian Paulette, poster design/photos.

“DNR” opened Friday, Sept. 6 and continues at The Living Room Theatre, 1818 McGee, Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets are general admission and $35. Tickets may be purchased online at The Living Room Theatre website or in person at the door.

Tags: The Living Room Theatre, “DNR” review, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment


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