Elliott Liteman is in a state of living death. Stricken with Lazarus Syndrome (a type of survivor’s guilt which afflicts some people who are resuscitated after clinical death), Elliott doesn’t want to die, but is afraid to live. During a horrific blizzard, his family comes to visit and he learns the importance of forgiveness and embracing life. This is Lazarus Syndrome by Bruce Ward and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.
First and foremost, let me assure you that this isn’t a doom and gloom story. True, there are moments of weightiness, but this is an excellent slice of life tale full of humor, hope, and even mystery. Ward’s script focuses on themes such as family, regret, ennui, aging, self-loathing, forgiveness, mortality, and what it means to be alive. I found myself spellbound by the tale as Elliott’s internal struggle is outwardly manifested as he spars and engages with his family.
M. Michele Phillips has provided a superlative piece of direction to this story as well as an inspired bit of casting. She understands the path of the story well, skillfully navigating the many turns of the tale and capitalizing on every beat. Ms Phillips guides her actors to rock solid performances and you’ll never doubt for an instant that this group is a family.
Brett Foster gives a powerful and poignant performance as Elliott Liteman. Living death well describes Foster’s essaying of Elliott as he merely goes through the motions of living. Foster gives a wonderful weariness to Elliott whose guilt and depression are so great that he’s turned away from almost everything that made him happy and lives a life that’s a mundane routine of taking medicine to combat his HIV and wandering around his apartment in his bathrobe. You can’t help but root for the guy when he finds small bits of happiness and vitality whether it’s through a sweet early morning conversation with his lover or a vigorous debate with his family.
Foster makes you feel the pain of a man who has lost his sense of self and is just seeking a way to end his cycle of nothingness.
Thomas Lowe plays the small, but crucial role of Stephen Bliss, Elliott’s young lover. Lowe brings a sweetness and innocence to Stephen who has enough energy to live life for the both of them. Your heartstrings will be tugged as Stephen’s love for Elliott allows Elliott to reclaim small sparks of himself and Stephen’s honesty and plain-spokenness may be the key to Elliott finally living his own life again.
Matt Allen is awesome as Elliott’s younger brother, Neil. Invoking the essence of younger brothers everywhere, Allen’s Neil is a bit of a thorn in Elliott’s side as he drips melted snow onto Elliott’s floor and scarfs down Elliott’s food while making wry observations on his unique tastes in edibles. Allen brings an incredible extemporaneousness to Neil’s dialogue as well as a snarky attitude which he carefully modulates to be a pest to Elliott, but not obnoxious or mean, especially when they start having suffering battles or discussing their somewhat fractious relationship.
Brent Spencer is the ideal Jewish father as Jake. He believes a good meal can solve all ills and that the three things Jewish people do best are eat, suffer, and fight. He is also clearly a man of his generation as he was brought up to believe that men didn’t show emotions and foul language is inappropriate in polite conversation. But he also shows that an old dog can learn new tricks as his own losses have taught him the value of emotions and he tries to instill that lesson into Elliott.
Ben Adams has designed a cozy little apartment that feels like a real home. Taelore Stearns’ lights pack an emotional punch. They actually feel just as sad as Elliott. Fred Goodhew’s sounds buoy the show’s emotional beats. Leah Skorupa’s costuming is just right with the suits worn by Neil and Jake and the hum-drum look of Elliott with muted t-shirt, boxers, and a somewhat colorful bathrobe to offset the drabness of his other garb.
In the end, this is a story of life overcoming death and that it can still be lived and enjoyed despite great tragedy if one is only willing to take that chance.
Lazarus Syndrome plays at SNAP! Productions through June 24. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm. The final show on June 24 will be at 2pm. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors (55+), TAG members, and military, and for all Thursday shows. For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com. Due to strong language and mature themes, Lazarus Syndrome is not recommended for children. SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.