The Body/theatre-in-Pain: (Im)possibility of Wellness in Lisa Kron’s Well

Narges Montakhabi Bakhtvar*

Abstract

With the pandemic, the meaning of pain, both physical and psychological, has undergone a drastic change. Now, the pain of the body and the body in pain are deeply interwoven with various social and political factors that extend the conception and perception of pain beyond the soma. In this regard, re-reading Lisa Kron’s Well from a socio-phenomenological perspective can unravel some different interpretations of “well-being” that are hinged upon race, gender, and healthcare policies in the U.S. Kron construes a meta-theatrical/corporeal matrix in which the (im)possibility and the very being of well-made theatre as an art form enter into dialogue with psycho-physical well-being of individuals in the context of racial and gender imperatives. Well exposes the audience to the collapse of dramatic structures, coinciding with the shattering of the illusion of wholeness, health, and integrity in contemporary America.

Keywords: pandemic, BLM, phenomenology of pain, well-being, dys-appearance, healing strategies

Lisa Kron, a prominent voice on the contemporary American stage, is

a founding member of the legendary OBIE and Bessie Award-winning collaborative theatre company The Five Lesbian Brothers whose plays, Oedipus at Palm Springs, Brave Smiles, Brides of the Moon, and The Secretaries have all been produced by their theatrical home, New York Theatre Workshop, and have been performed widely throughout the U.S.

“About Lisa Kron”
Lisa Kron. Photo: Web/Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

In Well (premiered at the Joseph Papp Theatre in New York in 2004), Kron is on a tumultuous quest for de-automatizing the body, de-neutralizing hegemonic discourses, and de-theatricalizing theatre. This tripartite (ad)venture is the performative core of the play as the actors vocatively forge a playful portmanteau with their characters, and the borders separating the playwright/director/scenographer/dramaturge collapse. As Wendy Weisman puts it,

Well, which Kron developed through workshops with director Leigh Silverman and dramaturge John Dias, represents the latest step in a career that encompasses the East Village performance art scene in its 1980s heyday; performing solo work [including 101 Humiliating Stories (1993) and the widely produced 2.5 Minute Ride-in (1999)] throughout the U.S.; and teaching playwriting at the Yale School of Drama.

1

Well is an autobiography depicting Lisa Kron’s attempt to perform a play about her Midwestern mother’s, Ann’s, long-time entanglement with an unknown illness. Lisa, who acts simultaneously as the actor, director, and playwright of her own show, starts sharing her stories with the audience about her childhood, her own allergy bouts, and hospitalization in the Allergy Unit at Chi’s Henrotin Hospital where she met Joy, another allergy-stricken young girl. She also talks about her mother’s initiative for their neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan, for racial integration back in the 1970s. However, as she proceeds, it becomes incrementally difficult for her to control her story and her play as Ann, other actors (named A, B, D, who constantly drop out of their character), and her unconscious mind (long-suppressed memories of a school bully, Lori Jones) destabilize the narrative and the theatrical structure that Lisa first had in mind and in her script. Ann instigates a performative mutiny against Lisa’s play not only by her disturbing corrections and questions but also dropping out of character and continuing the play as Jayne (the actor), to the degree that Lisa loses all her directorial control. In the end, it seems Lisa reaches a quasi-epiphany by reading aloud Ann’s speech for one of the neighborhood meetings for integration, in which she calls for weaving together all the parts into a whole.

With such a blazing display of meta-theatricality, Kron becomes an emissary of theatrical occlusion in which the drama, script, theatre and performance are conflated to the degree of indistinction, while the private/public and healthy/ill body forge a strong alliance with one another to constantly remind the audience of Kron’s socio-political and medical franchise in the play. In this respect, Kron’s play joins forces with the “growing critique of scientific medicine and its conception of the body as an object of medical knowledge” in the early twenty-first century, confronting “the medical gaze” by making the body “a locus of subjective experience” (Garner 89). As Stella Bolki confirms, “Well addresses several wider questions about professional competence, artistic practice, and the politics of health that intersect with medical concerns while resisting the current drive towards a narrow and measurable relevance” (2). In this regard, the pandemic has mobilized reflection on the nature of illness, race, and the body. In this sense, the concurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic with Black Lives Matter (BLM) can substantiate the deep-rooted correlation between race, health and social justice in America:

The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragic and stark example of the predominant impact of disease on Black citizens. By mid-July 2020, the CDC reported that amongst laboratory-confirmed tested COVID-19 cases, rates for non-Hispanic Black persons and Hispanic or Latino persons were approximately 4.7 and 4.6 times the rate among non-Hispanic White persons, respectively (CDC, 2020b). The injustices to which Black citizens in the United States continue to be subjected include lack of access to healthcare, and therefore not surprisingly, poorer health outcomes.

Schachter 82

COVID-19, detrimentally affecting the “Black, American Indian and Hispanic communities with significantly higher infection and morbidity rates . . . exposed the huge disparities in health care access that were always part of their reality, but not always noticed by many of us” (Katti).

Without imposing a narrow relevance, it is timely to re-visit Kron’s Well with a fresh appreciation of her treatment of matters at once medical, racial, socio-political, and theatrical. Race and Blackness become an underwritten agenda in this play as both Ann and Lisa attempt to define their sickness and well-being in relation to and liberation from racial injustice in America. In the duet between racial discrimination and well-being, the play addresses some fundamental problems pertinent to contemporary America, while Ann and Lisa try to achieve personal and communal equilibrium through healing and recovering from racism and social injustice within a highly meta-theatrical domain.

Accordingly, Ann’s chronically ill body and Lisa’s psychosomatic reaction to it lie embedded and embodied in the meta-theatrical corpus of the play; this is how Kron “envisions a high-minded look at sickness and getting better, important subjects for our health-obsessed, drug-dependent age” (McCarter 102). While Lisa shares with the audience her “bemused horror at life’s mundane indignities” and her “natural inclination to mythologize” Ann, she, as “a suspect narrator” (Weisman 3, 5), diligently traverses the thresholds of gender, racism, and physical and psychological health to make her play a scathing, unadulterated exposé of personal and social (un)wellness, woven into the discourse of racism.  

Correspondingly, in Well, the theatre body and human body crisscross in order to construe a theatrico-physiological act of embodiment, which can be envisioned through what Stephen Pattison has defined as a “paramedical academic discipline” (36). With such an interdisciplinary approach, it can be argued that the theatre and human physiques in this play are fleshed out with utmost self-consciousness on the bedrock of medical ethics in order to draw attention to an important social and political issue in America, which is, racism. With the pandemic, this issue has gained momentum as our understanding of the relation among health, race, and justice has been radically modified due to the toll the pandemic put on the Black people: “The glaring gap in the rates to which Black citizens are affected, and the reasons for that gap, vividly illustrate the systemic injustices to which the Black community has long been subjected” (Schachter 83).

It can be contended that Ann’s and Lisa’s bodies­­­­­­­­—alongside the figurative body of the theatre—are subjected to an emancipatory yet excruciating pain that is quintessentially destined to de-neutralize perception in order to equip it with (self)-awareness about minorities (the Blacks in particular) and power discourses (medical politics) in an American setting. The meta-theatrical theatre-in-pain, which ceaselessly and obstinately denies its own being through the transfusion of the dramatic with the performative, gains a liberatory consciousness of its own theatricality, processuality and ontology. This is while Ann’s and Lisa’s bodies, through pain, become more cognizant of and responsive to the typology of racial discrimination, social regimentation, and medical impasse. This dire fact manifests itself as “many Black people [in America] say they do not trust the medical establishment because of glaring inequities in modern-day care and historical examples of mistreatment” (Crooks et al. 205).

With respect to such an integrative stance toward medicine and theatre, the kinship between gender and pain also professes itself in the play through Ann’s rendition of pain in a domestic, housewifely/motherly milieu and Lisa’s lesbian self-treatment by having a “girlfriend who’s cured [her] with sex” (Kron 58). In this sense, the “gender context,” therefore, “not only reflects an individual’s [internal] personal experience of pain, but also the wider interpersonal context in which pain occurs” (Keogh 459).

In order to excavate the concurrence of the theatrical and the bodily on the palimpsest of the racial, Drew Leder’s philosophy of the body and his medical ethics are drawn upon in this essay. Leder, a professor of philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland since 1986, has extensively speculated about the phenomenology of pain through his main concepts, including “dys-appearance” (bodily pain), “experiential text” and “healing strategies,” such as “adaptability,” “remembering,” “reintegration” and “presencing.” In Leder’s phenomenology of embodiment, it is through pain that the body can vehemently defy daily automatization and disappearance by being steered toward self-consciousness and de-neutralization. The body-in-pain or dys-apparitional corporeality relentlessly objectifies and alienates the body, escorting it further to a solipsistic, self-reflective mode, deterring the automation to which the body is irresistibly accustomed as a result of the routine, everyday-life schemata.

In rapport with Leder’s views on the triad of soma, psyche, and pain, it can be argued that Ann’s chronic illness facilitates an astute corporeal awareness that is indissolubly consigned to the Black members of her community; this is how dys-appearance or bodily pain is conspicuously welded to contemporary conjugations of racism in America. In a similar vein, Lisa’s struggle with allergy becomes a palpable conduit for her to gain an in-depth awareness about her own body as a lesbian woman and theatre body as a playwright as she steadfastly embarks on a self-reflexive journey, navigating these two horizons of perception and embodiment. Furthermore, the idiosyncratic “healing strategies” whimsically undertaken by Ann and Lisa can also be possibly fathomed in the proximity of racism. For example, Ann’s strategy to alleviate pain entails her ambitious gesture of creating an integrated community and becoming a full-throat, staunch defender of racial mingling, which is amenable to Leder’s “adaptability” as a means to live with pain while making meaningful social contacts.

However, such adaptability resembles a one-way road for white people’s psychological health, as they take for granted how the Black community can possibly respond to it. The curious point is that Ann’s adaptability intriguingly moves toward racial (de)composition in her community, mounting a challenge to Leder’s conception of adaptability, which seems to be racially and socially anaesthetized, omitting the Black point of view on health and pain. The case of the pandemic is a testimony to such anaesthetization; there are

grave disparities in how doctors treat pain in Blacks, including Black children. Racist and stereotypical beliefs by healthcare providers are implicated in these disparities and can be traced back to slavery, whereby violence against Black people was justified by a false belief that Blacks had a greater pain tolerance due to thicker skin.

Crooks et al. 206

On the other end of the pain arc lies Lisa’s performative remedy for her aching self and body, which resembles Leder’s “presencing” or living fully in the moment; on the one hand, Lisa’s play becomes therapeutic in helping her face and cope with her past in order to construct the present as a lesbian woman/daughter/playwright and, on the other hand, it ironically becomes a catalyst for a trauma, since it disturbingly conjures up the psychological ordeal of not having control over her life and her theatre.

Dys-Appearance and Healing Strategies

Before exploring the play from the vantage points mentioned above, it is essential to voyage through Leder’s philosophy of pain and healing. His abiding concern and enduring contribution to the phenomenology of corps is that embodiment is inextricably anchored to being aware of the body in quotidian connections and interactions, which creates a bridge between the soma and the phenomena. Leder’s conception of corporeality harks back to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body in his Praise of Philosophy and Other Essays, where he defines “the body-subject or own body as the originary source of meaning and expression” (178). However, the problem is that, in daily life, the body is inevitably and involuntarily automated and, thus, absent, as it keeps “disappear[ing]” (Leder, The Absent Body 12) from consciousness. This means that the expunged, disappearing body is not only the “thematic object” or desideratum of daily experience but also “self-given”: “The surface body tends to disappear from thematic awareness precisely because it is that from which I exist in the world. Directed ecstatically outward, my organs of perception and motility are themselves transparent at the moment of use. This is the principle of focal disappearance” (53). Hence, the lived body, in Leder’s view, is “ex-static”; it “projects outward” to the world through contact and orientation, and while it is a medium of contact, it gyrates outside the contact itself, remaining “marginal to consciousness” (53). As a result of disappearance and automatization in the pre-reflective level, the lived body is no longer the atavistic object of the subject’s experience; it is perennially bound to continuous self-erasure.

Merleau Ponty: “The body-subject or own body [is] the originary source of meaning and expression.” Photo: Web/Wikipedia

However, within the domain of bodily dis-appearance, Leder diagnoses a seminal moment of disruption, which is “dys-appearance,” pertaining to the in-pain body inflicted with “dysfunction or problematic operation” (The Absent Body 85). Apropos of dys-appearance, Leder’s thought rides on the idea of self-reflective embodiment as, here, the pain rummages the mind/body/world trinity, tampering with the intention to perform routine, daily tasks: “[D]ys-appearance typically reverses structures of disappearance, bringing to conscious awareness what previously was tacit” (196). Under the sway of pain, the body, now “an alien presence,” induces, in Leder’s words, “spatiotemporal constriction” (73), which brings physical functionality to a halt as attention is fixated on the flesh and very being of the body, metamorphosing the body into an object, a not-me that uncannily divines “bodily-otherness.” Ergo, the body-in-pain or dys-apparitional corporeality relentlessly objectifies and alienates the body, escorting it further to solipsistic self-reflection and pre-reflection, muzzling the automated dis-appearance to which the body is accustomed. As a result of this process, the body in agony becomes the very object of perception.

In the milieu of the lived body and corporeality, dys-apparitional perceptions actively partake in interaction with the surrounding world as an attempt to decode semiosis of pain or what Leder calls “healing strategies.” These strategies can range from “restoring past abilities (pointing to the future to recreate the past)” to “seek[ing] consolation, richness, or hope by remembering the past; anticipating the future; or presencing, that is, living fully in the now” (“Healing Time” 100–01). On Leder’s pain alleviation palette, weaving the past, present and future into a soothing, perceptional balm can help the patient fabricate a more meaningful narrative, now that pain has caused severe and, at some points, irreversible damage to one’s mental and physical equilibrium.

Ann’s Racial Pain and Healing

In Kron’s Well, Ann’s lifetime entanglement with her health is the driving motivation behind the play’s critical immersion into physical, social, and cultural integrity and well-being. Jeremy McCarter, in his review of the 2006 performance of the play at Longacre Theatre, notes that Ann, as “a modest kind of hero, a woman you feel lucky to have met and would like to see again,” seems to be “the embodiment of a woman who won’t extract herself from bad health and worse taste” (102–03). However, Ann’s dys-apparitional body becomes the center around which the performance pieces coagulate while she dispenses her wisdom throughout the play, making Lisa more and more uncomfortable in her skin as a playwright and director. Ann’s unyielding obsession with her body and its pain is the reason why Lisa is now trying hard to craft her own life story because her life and body have been pinioned by Ann’s aching body. Throughout the years, Ann’s somewhat mysterious condition has been given various names like “chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia” (12) or “Tired Housewives Syndrome” (32). The play never clarifies the cause of her pain, and it is left open for speculation whether it is a psychosomatic or physiological.

In the case of Ann, the unnamability and ineluctability of pain permeates her sense of selfhood as she struggles to find various ways of expression and articulation for her pain, from silence to complaint. Nevertheless, in a quite illuminating yet intriguing remark, Ann herself bestows upon the audience a clue about the probable cause of her ailment by quoting Susan Sontag’s rendition of chronic conditions: “Whenever the cause of an illness is mysterious, it’s assumed to come from psychological problems or a moral weakness” (38). With Sontag’s observation looming large in the backdrop, the cause of Ann’s pain can be conceivably consigned to the connection between dys-apparitional corporeality and racism, as she proudly contends: “The two things we believe in as a family are allergies and racial integration” (20). Here, Ann’s specular pain metaphorically reflects the ailing body of America, which is still suffering from the paroxysm of racial discrimination against its Black citizens. Such interconnectedness of health, pain, and structural racism in America can be traced in Black Lives Matter (BLM) as it “has brought to light the blatant racism, discrimination, and prejudice Blacks face and the ways in which these circumstances create roadblocks to education, impede healthcare and economic opportunities and contribute to mental health problems” (Crooks et al. 206). That is why Ann is metaphorically trying to heal America and the Black community around her of all these problems by healing her neighborhood through integration.

Susan Sontag’s rendition of chronic conditions is looming large in the backdrop of Well. Photo: Web/Wikipedia, the free media repository

The genealogy of Ann’s psycho-social pain can be tracked down back to her own past, growing up in a highly segregated neighborhood in the American Midwest while visiting Baltimore and discovering how living in a Black neighborhood prevented her from finding a job: “And once I put that address down and they see it’s in a Black neighborhood–I can feel–it was very subtle, they weren’t mean or angry–but I felt that all a sudden the door was closed” (53). It seems “the evils of segregation and the evils of discrimination” (52) have cast their ominous spell on her body as a reflection of the miasma of racial injustice in the very fabric of America. Through the character of Ann, Kron brings to light the impacts of racial injustice on the mental and physical health of both whites and Blacks. Here, it should be mentioned that “the intersection of BLM, COVID-19, and historical trauma” has shown “we must acknowledge our history of maltreatment and racism, incorporate Black voices, experiences, and perspectives” (Crooks et al. 207). This is precisely what Ann is trying to do.

The noteworthy point is that such concurrence of the socio-cultural with pain is further brought to the forefront through A’s tokenistic and ironic remark about consumerist capitalism causing pain in the consumers:

ANN. You know a lot of people get real sick when they go to a mall, terrible headaches and so forth.
A. No kidding.
ANN. Oh yeah. They don’t realize it’s the formaldehyde fumes in all the merchandise. They get disoriented and cranky and sometimes they get numbness in their limbs.
A. That happens to me.
ANN. It’s probably allergy.
A. I just thought it was some spiritual response to consumerist culture.

37

Here, the play’s conception of pain resonates with Leder’s hermeneutics of pain and “experiential” pain. Ann’s recondite medical story is intensely occluded by her own experiential and cultural narrative of racial consciousness. She is left with “a sense of hermeneutic incompletion” as the medical system has not been able to provide her with a “full interpretation (which includes within it diagnosis, prognosis, proper treatment)” (Leder, “Clinical Interpretation” 12) of her condition. And it is exactly at this hiatus of interpretation that the racial and the experiential start to outweigh the clinical and the medical since the clinical assessment has not given Ann a sense of interpretive closure and she is left with a sense of inefficiency, which is seemingly compensated for through her racial integration initiative. Thus, Ann’s character brings to the surface “the structural barriers, including institutional racism in America” that were augmented with COVID-19 which “further marginalized people who are already disadvantaged” (Swannell).

Playbill—Program Date March 2006. Photo: Web

Throughout the performance, Ann sees the possibility of a racially integrated community as a remedy to the maladies of her society: “In the same way my mother believes that a host of symptoms often dismissed as psychosomatic–including her own inability to stay awake–are really caused by allergies; she also believes in the positive effects of racial integration” (Kron 20). For that matter, the West Side Neighborhood Association becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (20) to both Ann’s and her community’s possible healing from the pycho-social pain of racism. Let’s bear in mind that “racism in the United States has been a deeply entrenched public health issue resulting in numerous health disparities (Gee and Ford, 2011), including racial and ethnic minorities being more likely to suffer from chronic illness, die from cancer, and die during childbirth compared to their white counterparts” (Arana-Chicas et al. 1). Thus, as a “white woman saving all the Black people” (Kron 54), Ann’s obsession with integration can be interpreted as both the cause of her pain (America’s pain) and its healing. As a white woman in pain, Ann reflects on the pain of the Black community caused by various forms of discrimination and injustice; this is a psychosomatic pain of racism in both her body and America’s. Ironically and meaningfully, the racial maladies afflicting the Black communities have afflicted Ann and healing requires an integrated view toward color and race.    

Here, the liaison between gender and pain surfaces in the play through the irony of Ann; as a mother, not being able to heal herself and her family, she tries to save an entire neighborhood, which problematizes the image of a healing and nurturing mother. To forget the pain and indulge herself back in the absent, self-given body, she adamantly preoccupies herself with building “a racially integrated neighborhood,” which gives her an “awe-inspiring” energy exceeding her “exhausted body” (Kron 14), as Lisa declares. In this sense, Ann’s social and racial engagement with her community can be viewed as a phenomenological reassessment of the body and pain through which she consciously and actively embeds her ailing body in everyday life through “strategies such as accepting, listening, befriending, or witnessing” (Leder, “The Phenomenology of Healing” 137).

Moreover, by voluntarily allying pain to social engagement and change, Ann seeks healing through strategies that chime with Leder’s “adaptability.” Within the limits imposed by pain/illness, Ann robustly tries to connect with the people around her and adapts to her environment. It is through remembering and re-narrativizing her past life imbued with adaptability and community that Ann can somehow alleviate her pain through Lisa’s play. Nevertheless, here, surreptitiously surfaces a yawning lacuna in Leder’s ethics of healing, which is its social and cultural neutralism and lethargy, since Ann’s steps toward adaptability, integration, and remembrance all bear a strong testament to the ideological machine of American nationalism. Being a supporter of “social activities,” she organizes “all the volunteers to make the Christmas caroling and baseball games and Fourth of July parades happen,” believing that “[these] activities will fuel the political work” (22). Ann herself reveals that “[e]veryone thought I was kooky about that, just like they think I’m kooky about the allergies now. Nobody could figure out why I’d put so much work into a Fourth of July Celebration” (29). Hence, her personal healing strategies become an introduction to a broader ideological and nationalist suasion in America that tends to disregard racism while rhapsodizing over national unity and solidarity through some cultural milestones.    

Lisa and Her Theatre/Body-in-Pain

From Lisa’s point of view, however, the West Side Neighborhood Association sounds more like Ann desperately trying to integrate her white family into a predominantly Black, probably Christian, neighborhood: “By demographic chance, my brother and I are the only white kids in our school. We’re also the only Jews in our school. We are the only Jews in the whole neighborhood” (Kron 25). As a young, mostly symptomless adult, Lisa checks herself into the Allergy Unit to seek help for her “concentration problems” (24). As Joy puts it, the entire process of diagnosis boils down to Lisa’s experiential, subjective relation to her symptoms: “The accuracy of this testing is completely up to you. No doctor is going to hold your hand. It’s all about honest self-assessment of your reactions” (36). The Allergy Unit metaphorically stands for modern diseases with no detectable or recognizable causes that all congeal into one another under the banner of “allergy.” But Lisa’s self-care, as opposed to Ann’s other-care, apparently helps her outmaneuver her mysteriously ailing body toward well-being: “Strength and health and sex and attractive clothes and organic foods and Target over Kmart even if it costs a little more” (58).

Being redolent of Leder’s “presencing” as a healing strategy, Lisa struggles to get over her psycho-somatic (contrary to Ann’s psycho-social) pain with recourse to the present in order to liberate herself from the trap of “desynchronization” and “the temptation to collapse into self-pity and depression” (Leder, “Healing Time” 106). It is via mantling a well-crafted, solo-authored, and pre-measured play that Lisa tries to “presence” herself. However, Lisa’s indulgence in presencing is painfully annulled by the intermittent acts of “remembering,” which are mainly triggered by Ann’s impulsive interferences. In this respect, Lisa’s school bully, Lori Jones’ irksome apparition throughout the performance augurs the flimsy nature of presencing for Lisa as her play about how she feels well now starts to fall apart.

As the play unfolds, Ann constantly questions Lisa’s accuracy and authority. Michael Sommers, in his review of the 2006 production of the play, notes that “narrative becomes unglued. Unbidden characters pop up. The other actors, who portray a range of people, become so absorbed in chatting with the convivial Ann that they forget what they’re doing” (4). The irony is that Ann starts owning the play, which shows Lisa not being well and not being in control of her life and art despite what she claims. Kron in an interview emphasizes that “I had to turn myself into a character who oversimplifies so that the character of my mother can correct me and explain how much more complicated things are in real life” (Weisman 4). Such an oasis of wellness and authority emerges in the dialogue between Jayne and Lisa at the end of the play. Jayne-the-actor, as the last blow to Lisa’s haven of being well both as a woman and a playwright, throws some devastating critical grenades at her portrayal of Ann as being “too messy” and “too overwhelming” (Kron 62). Lisa, being utterly confounded, cannot find a psychological abode, with Ann being both “so sick” and “so well” (62), to which Jayne feverishly replies: “It’s not about why you got better and she didn’t. You keep drawing this line and putting sick people over here and the healthy people over there” (62–63). Thus, the play and its performative accouterments form a mise en abyme that endlessly reflects and deflects Lisa’s image, ultimately culminating in her distortion and obscurity.

Kron shows how investigating theatre’s ontology can, in itself, be a painful process of solipsism, self-inquiry and, finally, self-erasure, through which all the theatrical and performative determinants face radical transformation and even abnegation, resulting in the events’ “unavailability for re-presentation” (Bolaki 1). But it should not be forgotten that such a transgressive, therapeutic translation of the theatre and human body pertains to healing through not getting well, through impugning the un-reality of definitive, axiomatic dichotomies. In the end, Lisa learns to heal herself and her theatre by traumatizing and destabilizing both through fierce integration of fundamental opposites in order to see and feel them all anew. All this becomes an exploration of terra incognita of “bodily ethics”: “To take care of the body, to care for the body and to care about bodies requires a specific ethics–one that takes touch as axiomatic, emotional attachment as a value and interconnection as constant” (Phelan 323). Hence, Kron’s Well entails the ethics of embodiment, performativity, and pain, as the three keep defining each other while questioning the common denominators of wellness and well-constructed-ness in life and theatre. 

Conclusion

Kron’s Well is a harbinger of integration and synergy. It performatizes the body by suturing the medical into the racial and the theatrical in order to unravel the rifts underlying homogenizing and totalizing discourses such as nationalism, healthcare, and gender. Rereading the play with the pandemic and the BLM looming large in our minds can reveal how perceptions of pain and health are bound to socio-racial dynamics and discourses in contemporary America. The pandemic and its toll on the Black community has taught us to see wellness and pain in the proximity of race, gender, and class, as the people of color and the underprivileged were the primary victims of COVID-19. Kron’s play taps on these issues, foregrounding race and pain as the perimeters of social and personal well-being. Well is a play about reading and interpreting signs and symptoms, in which Lisa decodes Ann’s illness and sees it as untenable, and Ann probes into Lisa’s wellness and reveals it to be fictitious. Propitious to these acts of signification is how current healthcare policies have been a failure in bringing mental and physical wellness to a majority of people, which is also mirrored in the disintegration of Lisa’s life and theatre.

Kron’s run-aground autobiography becomes a trope for the nebulous nature of wellness and illness, community and individual, public and private. The collapse of the dramatic structure thus coincides with the illusion of wholeness and health being shattered. With such a revisionist tendency, Kron also gauges the pain threshold of theatre by pushing its boundaries in order for more integrated horizons of embodiment and performance to appear. Thus, the play depicts recovery from one pain and stepping into a new one, which are captured through the implosion of Lisa’s play from the inside. Lisa has seemingly recovered from an Ann-type pain, but now she faces a more excruciating and the pain of not being/owning herself, which is the pain of not being/owning herself.

Acknowledgement

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Sheila Rabillard for her exceptional support and mentorship. Her deep critical vision and perception of theatre inspired me to think and write about the unrepresented and the silenced.  


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*Narges Montakhabi Bakhtvar is a PhD student of Theatre Studies at the University of Victoria. Her research scope covers contemporary American theatre, politics of theatre, gender, and diaspora. Currently, she is working on the ways by which different political inscriptions on the body, gendered body in particular, including the dichotomy between body-at-home and body-in-exile are captured in the plays by Persian women playwrights. Her writing has appeared in CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture (Purdue University) and is in press in Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (Duke University).

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