In D.H. Lawrence’s eloquent “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” he referred to life as his protagonist’s “immediate master” and death her “ultimate master.” It is so for all of us. Playwright Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life addresses life and death as well in a contemplative and gripping production from Intrepid Theatre Co. directed by Christy Yael-Cox.
Bill and Dinah (Tom Stephenson and Maggie Carney) are a reserved, conservative couple from the Midwest grieving the loss of their beloved daughter to a savage murderer. Still, at brave Maggie’s urging, they travel west on a mission of comfort to visit her free-spirit cousin Jeanette (DeAnna Driscoll) and her husband Neil (Jeffrey Jones), who are living in a portable tent after a fire destroyed their home. Worse, Neil is dying of cancer and, to Maggie’s and (mostly) Bill’s shock, has decided to end his life on his own terms. Jeanette has a reveal of her own that deeply pains Dinah and shakes the religious and self-righteous Bill to the core. Yet The Quality of Life dwells less in moral polemics and more in exploring love and commitment in the here and now, a proposition so terribly difficult when something precious is gone … or is about to be. It’s a tender piece about sacrifice, with affecting performances, especially from Jones and Carney. Even its “little” moments, as when Bill discovers the remains of their friends’ family pet lost in the fire, can be devastating.
The Quality of Life runs through Aug. 2 at the Carlsbad Village Theatre. $25-$40. Intrepidtheatre.org
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.