The Footlights Theatre in Falmouth is a place where light comedy often reigns supreme. In the latest production from the steadfast little venue, though, the laughs come only as a welcome bit of relief during a serious dramatic work.

Playwright Michael J. Tobin’s “The Colors of My Life” tells the partially true story of an artist who loses her ability to see colors. Tobin, who also directs the play, had met such a person (local artist Jennifer Visscher) by chance at an art show last summer and quickly spun a harrowing but ultimately uplifting story about a family whose fault lines are tested as the members work their way through a worsening crisis.

As the play opens, we meet mid-career artist Anne (Jennifer Fox) as she consults with a psychoanalyst (Kathleen Nation) hired by her parents to try to “cure” her of her colorblindness. When Anne’s mother Claire (Jackie Oliveri) enters, we quickly learn that her strong personality is an issue in itself. She shoots down any notion, such as that held by Anne’s husband Michael (Alan McLucas), that her daughter’s affliction may have a physical rather than a psychological cause.

The play’s message about the additional stress that undiagnosed or misdiagnosed ailments can have on individuals and their families will likely resonate with many in this up-close visit with an ultimately likeable bunch of recognizable characters going through a difficult time.

Anne’s father Sam (Nick P. Soloway) initially withdraws before his wife’s pronouncements while Anne’s younger sister Samantha (Victoria Machado), a medical doctor, forcefully insists that the way the family is failing to deal with the immediate problem reveals a broader dysfunction.

Emotional outbursts, including some rather striking exchanges, crackle through the intimate theater space in Falmouth where performers are only a few feet away from the masked audience.

The contours of the play may feel a bit melodramatic and, at times, a little familiar. But the beating heart revealed within this production is warm and gains emotional color as things move along during its 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Each character has an opportunity to directly tell the audience a bit of their own backstory in effective softly lit and musically enhanced moments. And though the male characters play significant roles – McLucas as the committed spouse and Soloway as the low-key anchor of the clan – the play centers on the interpersonal dynamics between the female characters.

Local theater veteran Oliveri is particularly strong as the well-intentioned but personally haunted mom. Fox establishes Anne’s edgy and ominous withdrawal from the world, while Machado has Samantha continuously on the brink of falling apart and bringing the others down with her. Nation adds a subtle but telling touch to her character’s personal engagement with the family.

The ultimate discovery of a cause, if not a cure, for Anne’s illness, plus another unsettling development, lead to a moving close of a compelling show from the serious side of the Footlights Theatre.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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