By Orrin Konheim
The audience for Creative Cauldron’s latest play, “Kaleidoscope,” this past Sunday was treated to a post-show discussion with Nancy Scott, the wife of the late Virginia State Delegate Jim Scott, who opened up about her experiences losing her husband after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The four-person play tells the story of an aging actress dealing with the pervasive effects of Alzheimer’s and how her family copes with her changing condition. The post-play discussion was moderated by Creative Cauldron Producing Director Laura Connors Hull in front of about 25 people.
“There’s something that rang true about [the play]. Obviously Jim was not on the stage, but it was a public life he led,” said Nancy Scott. Her late husband had held public office since 1972 including 22 years in the Virginia State House of Delegates.
Del. Scott was first diagnosed in 2012 with mild cognitive impairment and it was only in the last 10 weeks of his life after he could no longer physically stand that Nancy Scott made the difficult decision to put him in an assisted living home.
“I still sort of regret it. If I had known he was only going to live 10 weeks after that, I’m not sure, but it needed to be done,” said Scott.
One of Nancy’s favorite memories was when she visited him this past Valentine’s Day and was surprised to see that he had regained some of the verve he used to have as a politician.
“He was not good around other people at that point, he was physically disabled. So the Jim I hadn’t seen for maybe a couple years was like ‘Oh, hi! My name is Jim Scott,’ the old politician in him,” Scott said. “He had always thoroughly enjoyed shaking hands and meeting people. And I thought, ‘This is worth it!’ this is fun. That was the last time I saw the sitting up and the confidence.”
In closing, Scott added that the play, “Kaleidoscope,” “captured an emotional piece. Emotion is there to the end and what you all captured that I believe, Jim died before the other depths, he knew me, he wasn’t sure about photographs of our daughters, shortly before he died, he said about those young ladies, and those are our daughters, one of his last complete sentences was ‘how are your mom and dad’ because he loved my mom and knew and he never stopped saying “I love you.”
Hull prefaced the discussion saying that “Kaleidoscope” aims to be a work of art, and less so focused on the clinical aspects of the disease. The intent was that people would see this as a chance to take and share something specific about the experience.
Playwright Stephen Gregory Smith, who later joined the panel with the cast members and the director, said that he was inspired by his grandmother who struggled with the disease and the two daughters were based on his mom and aunt.
After seeing his mother and aunt between the matinee and evening performance that day, he believes that the play sometimes hits too close to home for him.
“Kaleidoscope” originated with lead actress Florence Lacey, who then presented the idea to Smith and music director Matt Conner.
“There’s beauty in it, there’s humor in it, and yes of course there’s pain. I thought Matt could really do something with it musically,” said Lacey, who has starred on Broadway in “Hello Dolly” and “Evita.”
A lot of audience members chimed in with their experiences as well.
“We’re married 25 years but we have no children. We discussed growing old and healthy together. We have siblings but they’re away. So we’ve discussed the thought and the risks of being each other’s caregivers,” said one audience member. “So one of the advantages in the fright and anxiety that ‘Kaleidoscope’ really brings to the fore, is the loving and learning process without, me at least, naively, thinking I’ll dive in naively when it happens.“
Another spoke of how she jogged her mother’s memory with a song and got a response from her mother criticizing her singing voice. The audience laughed.
The Kensington Falls Church, a recently opened assisted living community, sponsored the Thursday and Saturday performances of the show’s 25-day-run with a variety of speakers to discuss the disease. Kensington outreach director Karen Akers said that they expected to facilitate conversation that would deepen the experience for the theater goers.
The program is the third play in Creative Cauldron’s “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages” initiative which seeks to produce five original musicals over the course of five seasons. “Kaleidoscope,” running through this Sunday, May 28, was formally named this week a Helen Hayes Award recommended show.