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`Last List' intriguing, thought-provoking

A drama about three women, one of whom is elderly and ailing.

No - it's not "Three Tall Women." That was last year."Last Lists of My Mad Mother" is an intriguing, thought-provoking look at care-giving.

Inspired by former Utah playwright Julie Jensen's experiences in helping take care of her mother a few years ago, this fairly stark drama centers on three characters: "Ma," whose mind is slowly slipping away; "Dot," who finds herself in the exasperating role of chief care-giver; and "Sis," Dot's sister, who is too busy with her own family to offer anything more than misguided and unsolicited advice during her frequent telephone calls.

Director David Mong has three superb actresses on board for SLAC's 1997-98 season opener (in the newly renovated Chapel Theatre space): Marilyn Holt as Ma, Carolyn Wood as Dot and Kathryn Atwood as Sis.

This is not a scenery-driven drama.

Keven Myhre's backdrop and props - five empty, metallic picture frames and a matching plexiglass-topped table and two metal chairs - are sparse and direct. They go hand-in-hand with Jensen's equally direct and no-frills script.

As the scenes shift, the interiors of different picture frames are lighted with soft, rectangular lighting - but they're still empty . . . not unlike the disintegrating recesses of Ma's mind.

The table is quickly, quietly turned into an automobile, by tipping it forward, with the two chairs moved into place for driver and passenger, setting the stage for Dot and Ma's forays to the post office (a set-in-cement ritual which must take place at precisely 10:30 a.m. every day) or trips into the nearby countryside.

But the real journey here is not to the post office or the grocery story (to feed Ma's bizarre, steady diet of Hershey bars and cases of Kellogg's Honey Bunches of Oats) or to see - daily - the carcass of a deer entrapped in a barbed wire fence.

This is a trip that meanders through a dysfunctional family.

Dot is clearly at her wit's end, living with Ma (and, from the dialogue, but never seen or heard - Daddy).

Ma is both senile and demanding. A pretty unpleasant combination. When she isn't insisting on maintaining her rigid schedule, she's cheating at solitaire.

Sis is no help. All she does is telephone Dot occasionally, mostly to suggest that Ma be put into a nursing home.

There are also between-the-scenes flashbacks to when Ma taught speech and dabbled in being a florist.

"There were people in town who actually believed that it was the intransitive verb that got her, that finally drove my mother crazy," Dot opines as the play opens.

The dialogue between the three women is sparse and realistic.

There's not much humor, though. While Jensen is writing about a pretty serious subject, there could have been a few more humorous situations to lighten things up.

But much of this also hit pretty close to home for me - as it may for many other theatergoers. Ma's penchant for constantly repeating thoughts and sentences are exactly like my own mother at this stage in life.

- Sensitivity rating: This may be too intense for young children, dealing as it does with health-care issues. This contains only one expletive (the popular R-rated word) and some mild profanity.