People respond differently to every situation, from food allergies to natural disasters. Like everything else, death is no different, bringing out a multitude of reactions by anyone who has lost a loved one.
In Riverwalk Theatre’s first show of the 2012-2013 season, directed by Tom Ferris, produced in collaboration with Lansing’s Ele’s Place, “Getting Near to Baby,” by Y. York and based on the children’s book by Audrey Coloumbis, shows the different ways that a family reacts to the loss of one of their own, adding humor, wise words and a whole lot of love to the grieving process.
Set in a small town in 1967, sisters Willa Jo (Grace Mary Hinkley) and Little Sister (Olivia Sowa) are sent to live with Aunt Patty (Teresa Hurd) and Uncle Hob (Michael Stewart), a stricter household than the one that they were accustomed to, after the death of their baby sister.
With both Aunt Patty and Uncle Hob trying to help the girls in the only ways they know how it’s made clear that Aunt Patty and Willa Jo are much more alike than either would like to admit, both dominating older sisters caught in a battle of stubbornness, which continues to be an issue during the entire show.
The rest of the story unfolds with the help from some quirky neighborhood kids, Isaac (Forrest Colson) and Liz Fingers (Ellen Weise), and a mother/daughter duo, Lucy (Angela Lett) and Cynthia Wainwright (Lillian Wilson-Daeschlein), who aren’t exactly pleasant to Willa Jo and Little Sister.
Hurd at times feels a little forced but has a performance that really breaks out in Act Two, finally breaking down about what has happened to her little sister and their family, showing much more emotion than before. She also gets to become a little more relaxed in Act Two, showing some comedic chops that were a nice addition to a rather stiff character.
Stewart is great throughout as Uncle Hob, leaving a lasting impression on viewers even though he isn’t in it as much as some of the others. As someone that’s met Stewart on more than one occasion this role is Stewart, a kind man always trying to help and giving one heck of a performance.
As for the children in this show, and there are quite a few, Colson as eight-year-old Isaac is a notable standout, bringing constant humor, from his “model walk” to when he pretends to be a miner in the cave. He’s vastly different from the other eight-year-old in the show, Little Sister, bringing a childlike innocence that she no longer has.
Costume design team Kris and Anna Maier add a nice element to the show, with costumes that are a vibrant part, adding lots of little details that speak volumes of the characters, such as Lucy’s pearls.
“Getting Near to Baby” may be set in a time much different than this one but it’s values are one in the same, showing that time, love and family are sometimes all you need to get through a struggle.