In a moving, often humorous family drama about three sisters and their younger brother, first-time playwright Rick Garman strikes an emotional mother lode in “17 Days.” Although the play is one of many that incorporate AIDS, the trauma is not used as the disease of the week, but, rather, as a change that affects real people in the web of family politics.
Widowed MaryAnn Baker (Laura Wernette) arrives in humid Cedar Rapids to open up her late father’s house with her two daughters, Lucy (Erin J. Dean) and Breeann (Debra Jean Rogers). In 17 days, the house will have new owners, so they have to move everything out.
Soon joining them are MaryAnn’s sisters: Elizabeth (Lisa Gates), the oldest and a congresswoman, and Jenny (Bonita Friedericy), the wild one, and rich from two divorces.
Brother Jeff (Nick DeGruccio) was not invited — Elizabeth felt he would be too confrontational and too busy recording his new rock album — but he appears anyway.
Jeff becomes the spoon that stirs this family’s emotional cauldron. He feels it’s time to announce to the world he’s homosexual and dying of AIDS-related illnesses. Elizabeth and MaryAnn hate the idea; Jenny has reservations.
While “17 Days” may not be described as thick with plot, it pulsates with interesting and likable people. Garman shows that “family,” despite the diversity of its members, can be a positive influence.
Director Robert O’Reilly, best known as Gowron, the supreme commander of the Klingons on “Star Trek,” brings out delicate, wordless and yet powerful moments from all the cast.
Gates’ Elizabeth, like many an older sibling, latches on to what she thinks is the problem and tries to control it. And like many a rebellious middle child, Friedericy, as Jenny, fights her with spirit. One feels the years of associated disputes. Wernette and DeGruccio complement the others quite well.
As 12-year-old Lucy and 17-year-old Breeann, Dean and Rogers provide an immediate presence and context to the rivalry and the machinations of growing up.
Sandra Kinder contributes a humorous turn as an eccentric neighbor who makes a lot of sense.
Richard D. Bluhm’s two-story set fills the wide stage with the luscious detail of a modest house, indoors and out — an impressive undertaking. Just as intricate is Paul-Anthony Navarro’s sound design.
Complementing it all effectively are the light design by Gary Christensen and costume design by Ted C. Giammona.