THEATER 

DAILY RECORD. JULY 6. 2001
BY DEBRA SCACCIAFERRO
BRANCHVILLE -

Canadian playwright Tevia Abrams packs a lot of issues -maybe too many -
into the world premiere of “Erica’s Last Mission.” 

But the play, which runs for only three more performances tonight through
Sunday at the Tri-State Actors Theater at the Garris Center Theater in
Branchville, is well worth seeing,

In one sense, “Erica’s Last Mission” is a thoughtful and gripping portrait of a
20th-century marriage.  The Kroners are an intellectual Canadian couple who
have struggled for half a century to keep their marriage intact against their own
worst failings of infidelity, emotional dead ends, deception and near
collapses. Their final test of courage comes in the form of a battle with a
life-sapping illness. 

In a lesser sense, it is a social drama on the controversial notion of euthanasia or
mercy killing. The fact that Abrams throws into the mix an estranged daughter who
joined a cult many years ago, and may now hold her father responsible for her
mother’s death, makes this an almost too rich stew.

But that is perhaps this play’s only flaw. Otherwise, it is an intelligent and compassionate
look at how ill-equipped most families are to cope with the suffering and death of a loved
one -let alone the moral questions that surface under pressure from society’s rules about dying.

Having experienced this issue personally -at my dad’s  bedside after he lost a long battle with
cancer in December, and as a cancer survivor myself– I was pleased to see that Abrams
and director Mary Clifford {herself a cancer survivor) did not sensationalize this play, but
nailed just about every emotional milestone in the struggle, Abrams offers no definitive
answers, but uses the questions to illuminate the larger issues about judgment, commitment
and marriage.

 The cast of three is very fine indeed.  Jeanne L. Austin plays Erica Kroner, a proud and bitter
wife who is determined to battle this unspecified illness (cancer, leukemia, or any of the
progressively debilitating diseases).  At some point -a question that the play hinges on -
she abandons her medical team and enlists a Jack Kervorkian- style doctor to help her
end things more quickly.

 Paul Meacham, the artistic director of Tri-State Actors Theater, plays her husband, Stanley,
a history professor whose emotional distance has often left his marriage tottering on the brink
of divorce. With the decision out of his hands, he nevertheless struggles to make sense of it all
as he awaits trial for murder.

 At first, he is not interested in the outcome, But David Volin, who is brilliant as the young and
cynical lawyer whom Stanley’s friends have hired to defend him, pounds away at – Stanley’s defenses
to uncover the truth.

 What is thrilling about “Erica’s Last Mission” is not the legal battle between the lawyer and the
Canadian Crown Prosecutor, of which we see only glimpses, but rather the emotional battle
between a curious lawyer and a resigned defendant.

 Volin and Meacham are equally matched opponents, given to flashes of arrogance, anger and
a  stubborn conviction of the righteousness of their position.

 But Stanley’s weapons are silence, withdrawal and disconnection, while the lawyer’s include
relentless probing, connection and an ability to tap into Stanley’s professional need to explain the
past.

 All three actors give entirely believable and richly complex performances.  Meacham told me that
several loved ones in his family have battled cancer in the past year. His scenes with Austin during
her last moments are so finely wrought, you can feel his heart breaking with the strain. 

 Meacham who has been friends with Abrams since graduate school, has helped to nurture this play
from a one-act version, read during Tri-State.s New Plays Reading Series of 2000, to its current
form. Abrams first began writing it in 1993, inspired by a nightmare he had about suicide.

 Many people who might broaden their minds by seeing “Erica’s Last Mission” probably won’t go.
But for those lucky enough to get tickets to the last few performances in the tiny Garris Center
Theater, “Erica.s Last Mission” will ultimately provide a stirring and hopeful view of marriage.

 Tested by human frailties and seared by adversity, mar. riages that do not break often forge
powerful bonds that can bolster a couple through death and bring the survivor out whole again
on the other side.

Debra Scacciaferro  DAILY RECORD. July 6. 2001