If you're a fan of Twin Cities theater, chances are you've seen Kate Eifrig on stage. The statuesque dark haired actress is known equally for her skill with drama and comedy, and has been a regular presence in the work of the Guthrie Theater, Ten Thousand Things, and other highly regarded companies.
But at the same time as she was giving stellar performances onstage (Tony Kushner raved about her performance of First Lady Laura Bush in "Tiny Kushner"), Eifrig was increasingly suffering from a mysterious illness which took its toll on her both physically and mentally. Numerous specialists were unable to come up with a firm diagnosis. According to a website dedicated to her recovery, "By 2010 she had had four episodes of tree-trunk edema (usually only found in seniors and the more elderly) and by March of 2011 she'd lost and gained 20-25 pounds five times."
After several depressive episodes which led to trips to emergency rooms, in July of 2011 Eifrig was forced to admit herself into the hospital.
Kate Eifrig in Blithe Spirit at the Jungle Theater
Photo by Michal Daniel
Doctors now believe that Eifrig suffers from what is known as "treatment resistant" or "treatment refractory" major depression, which, as its name implies, is not easily treated through medication or other methods.
Close friends, like Melodie Bahan, have rallied around Eifrig to provide what support they can. Bahan says Eifrig is now entering her fourth consecutive year of a depressive episode.
One of her doctors described her condition to her as analogous to someone walking around with untreated heart disease. Her job right now is to focus on getting better. Even though her health started to decline in 2008, she continued to do amazing work until October of last year, when she did "August/Osage County" at Park Square. I know work has gotten progressively more difficult for her over the years and the last few shows took a toll - although you wouldn't have known that if you were sitting in the house watching her. But now, not only is she unable to act, she can't even work a "day job."
Kate Eifrig as First Lady Laura Bush in "Tiny Kushner" at the Guthrie Theater
Photo by Michal Daniel
While traditional treatments have had no positive effect on Eifrig's condition, she is hoping that an alternative treatment may provide her some relief, and even a little joy.
When a psychotherapist recently asked Eifrig if there was anything that had ever helped her depression, she responded jokingly "a dog."
"I've prescribed dogs for people."
Unfortunately, mental health service dogs come at a steep price. Eifrig's friends have created a website to help her raise the $20,000 necessary for the dog and its training - training that will be specific to her condition and needs. This is a treatment that's not covered by health insurance. And while Eifrig has health insurance as a member of Actors Equity, that coverage will lapse if she doesn't return to the stage.
Kate Eifrig as Catherine Petkoff in "Arms and the Man" at the Guthrie Theater
Photo by Michal Daniel
At this point, Melodie Bahan admits she doesn't know if Eifrig will ever be able to return to acting:
This is the sort of illness that is definitely life-changing. Given her history, I wouldn't be surprised if Kate gravitated toward working in the mental health field - perhaps combining her artistic talent with her life experience in some way. I just want her to get her life back, to be able to work, to be able to walk without pain, to be able to live. I believe a mental health service dog is going to give her the healing she needs to accomplish that.
Noel Coward's comedy of manners "Hay Fever" - onstage at the Guthrie Theater through April 22 - stars the eccentric Bliss family, and an unsuspecting array of houseguests who have no idea what they've gotten themselves into.
Critics will tell you there's not much of a plot to be had - but no matter, because hysterical melodrama andpregnant pauses will keep you in stitches.
Cat Walleck (Sorel Bliss), Harriet Harris (Judith Bliss) and John Catron (Sandy Tyrell) in the Guthrie Theater's production of Hay Fever by Nöel Coward.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
The family takes its 1920s Bohemian lifestyle seriously, to the point that they all are willing to do and say whatever they want--even if that leaves their poor guests twisting in the wind. The entire company dives right into the madness here, wringing comedy out of every awkward moment.
Hay Fever.. belongs to the designers. Enter the Wurtele Thrust and behold - "Wow." - Janet Bird's sumptuous, perfectly painted, gorgeously lit (by Philip S. Rosenberg) set. Paintings compete with rough drawings and eccentric props. Murals swirl - enough to draw your attention but never distracting. The floorplan is a wonder; there are a half dozen outstanding theatrical entrance/exits.
Harriet Harris as Judith Bliss
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Harriet Harris - who seemed a bit miscast when last seen at the Guthrie as Amanda Wingfield in a 2007 production of "The Glass Menagerie" - is working precisely to her strengths as the eccentric, dramatic matriarch Judith Bliss. Harris looks to be having the time of her life on stage, uttering every word as if it's a Memorable Line from some other show in which Judith has appeared. She seems to have figured that there is practically no way to overplay the role and lets loose with an enjoyable couple hours of chewing the scenery.
Coward wrote Hay Fever such that it accelerates with each act, getting funnier, crazier, more physical, and more ridiculous with each perfectly placed line. As the layers build, the Bliss's eccentricities are revealed. And as soon as they act "normal," luring their poor guests into a deceived notion of understanding, it's just a matter of seconds before they're back to being as unpredictable as ever. The play is an exhausting exercise in emotion and extremes, but instead of tapering out, the actors all play off one another, putting on an exhilarating and hilarious show--one that will make your odd family look blissfully normal.
Charity Jones as Myra Arundel and John Skelley as Simon Bliss in the Guthrie Theater's production of Hay Fever by Nöel Coward
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Have you seen Hay Fever? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.(2 Comments)
I've long been a fan of Michal Daniel's photography. As a journalist who often uses press images to accompany my features or blog posts, Daniel's images have always stood out as particularly gorgeous. For many years he was the choice photographer for Theatre de la Jeune Lune's productions, and the results were breathtaking.
So I was particularly pleased to see that Daniel was singled out for a profile by TPT's "Minnesota Original." It's a lovely feature, and gives you a sense for his true passion for the work, as well as his Czech heritage, and his recent move to working with such high profile companies as The Public Theater. Enjoy!
Hunger Games Tributes prepare:what will they read when they are done? (Image courtesy Lionsgate.)
As a buyer at the Red Balloon Bookstore in St Paul Julie Poling was one of the people who received an advanced readers copy of Suzanne Collins "The Hunger Games." She says she knew immediately it was going to be a huge hit.
"I just knew," she said. "It was so well written."
It was late 2007, or early 2008 and she read it aloud with her daughters who were then 11 and 13.
"We just plowed through it," she told me the other day. "Loved it. Every minute of it. They were just blown away by it, And my daughter said at the end 'This is it. This is the kind of book I ant to read,' and she has been into that dystopian thing ever since."
She admits they did the same with "Catching Fire," and "Mockingjay," the other books in the Collins trilogy, but they had to swear in advance to the distributors that they would not reveal anything about the books till they were released to the public.
Poling says there is nothing new about young readers fascination with dystopian portrayals of our world could go horribly wrong. She points to how Orwell and Bradbury produced the stories which thrilled and chilled slightly older generations.
Which led to the inevitable question to someone sitting before a wall of books: given that many fans have already inhaled the Hunger Games trilogy, what does she recommend to readers with a dystopian appetite?
"The best book ever written, I say, or the best book written so far, and I have been reading books for a long long time, is "Knife of Never Letting Go." by Patrick Ness," Poling said.
It's the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. It's about a boy called Todd Hewitt growing up on a planet where due to a strange germ everyone can hear what everyone else is thinking. They can even hear and understand what the animals around them are thinking. Todd has to learn how to deal with what they call the Noise that is all around him, and as he does he begins to learn the dark secrets of his community.
"And then there is "Maze Runner," continued Poling. The James Dashner book about young people living in a maze filled with hideous monsters is a 2011-2012 Maud Hart Lovelace nominee in the Minnesota Youth Reading Awards. As a result Poling says it sells well on its own.
"There's a new one just out that's just fantastic called "Divergent"" Poling continued. The Veronica Roth book is set in a dystopic Chicago where young people are assigned to warring factions based on an aptitude test.
So gentle dystopian reader, what might you recommend? Please post your answers below!