There will come a time when Eunice acknowledges the inevitable, but not before taking a stand.
She wants to spend her last years at her home, not in her daughter’s, and she wants to hang out with her best friend, Berta.
And she wants to provide moral support for 19-year-old J.B. as he enters college. He works at the assisted living facility where Eunice resides. He isn’t a family member, but lately he seems more like one than her daughter.
But Eunice’s daughter realizes her mom is in early dementia, which is where UpStage Theatre’s production of Vincent Williams’ drama-comedy “It’s a Life” starts.
“Vincent Williams is not well known as a playwright, but a friend showed me this play, and it’s an awesome story,” says Ava Brewster Turner, Upstage’s founder and artistic director. “It takes on a subject that we’ve all dealt with or are going to have to deal with in our lives — taking care of an elderly relative. It’s something everyone can relate to.”
Seventy-four-year-old Eunice is the main character in this four-character story. She’s at a point in her life where she needs help, but her daughter lives in Connecticut.
“Her daughter is a television news anchor; she wants her mother to move in with her,” Turner says. “But Eunice is adamant about staying in her own home and keeping her independence. She’s living in an assisted living facility now, and her best friend, Berta, lives next door.”
Carissa Cropper plays Eunice, drawing from memories of her grandmother to prepare for the part.
“I’m 39 so I thought about her,” Cropper says. “It’s fun to play someone older, because she says whatever is on her mind. There’s no filter.”
Cropper also is a prekindergarten teacher at Southern University Laboratory School, which, she says, enhances her acting skills.
“It’s not enough to tell preschoolers a story — they have to see it,” she says. “If I’m teaching them about Rosa Parks, I have to be Rosa Parks. I’m always on, always acting, and they remember who I’m talking about.”
At 24, Keyarie Augustus also must adjust to playing an older character. Berta is 68, and she’s the yin to Eunice’s yang.
“Berta is Eunice’s voice of reason,” Augustus says. “But I have to remember that Berta handles things differently at 68 than I do at 24. When I get riled up, I get wound up, but Berta is older, so I have to slow down, because she’s calmer.”
Still, not all of Eunice’s friends are elderly. She forges a bond with J.B., who wants to enroll in college. Eunice tells J.B., played by Alexander Scott, to follow his dreams, and he starts looking at her as a surrogate mom.
“He even tells Eunice that he’ll move to Connecticut with her and go to college there if she has to move in with her daughter,” Turner says.
“But there comes a time when even he realizes he has to move on,” Scott adds.
At the same time, Dr. Bradley, the facility’s resident physician,realizes she can’t detach herself from her environment. Played by Krystal Blatcher, the doctor’s bedside manner is cold, but there are reasons for her approach. It’s difficult to get emotionally close to patients when so many are approaching the end of their lives.
“Later in the play, we see how she isolates herself, and how that isolation falls apart,” Blatcher says. “She had to take care of her own mother, and the assisted living facility is a reminder of her mom and how hard it was for her to lose her mom.”
The subject is tough, but there are plenty of comic moments.
“Eunice has everyone laughing with her feistiness,” Cropper says. “But it’s a story that everyone will understand.”
“It’s like the title says — it’s a story about life,” Turner says.