Death Tax at Pillsbury House Theatre

Wendy Lehr and Regina Marie Williams in Death Tax. Photo by Keri Pickett.

Wendy Lehr and Regina Marie Williams in Death Tax. Photo by Keri Pickett.

Death Tax, by Lucas please-buy-a-vowel Hnath (Pillsbury House Theatre, through April 4) is an entertaining play about a super-serious subject: death. Do subjects get seriouser?

Bed-ridden nursing home resident Maxine has acquired an unholy obsession, that her daughter is attempting to murder her. Daughter’s motivation: if Maxine expires before Jan 1, her estate will be larger. Daughter has hired, Maxine fervently believes, Nurse Tina to facilitate M’s early death.

Maxine must be mad! To think that Tina, a dedicated medical professional, would do such a thing. She offers Tina a substantial bribe not to kill her. Impossible. Of course, Tina will turn her down flat.

No! Tina accepts. It turns out she has significant motivation to take M’s money. She is also having… Let’s call it a slight thing with Todd, the nursing home director. Tina never ceases to surprise us. Daughter shows up, exploding with unexpected passion. And then, holy moley, in Scene Five, we discover…

Okay. Death Tax has… an unexpected plot twist (I won’t use the gimmick-word). Naturally, I’m not going to reveal it. Does it work? Well, see the play and find out for yourself. In my opinion… Never mind my opinion.

Are too many scenes in Death Tax overlong and a touch flat? Not to worry: whip-smart director Hayley Finn has engaged the cream of the crème of the Twin Cities acting world and watching these artists take this piece apart is a great pleasure.

What a cast! The ever-marvelous Wendy Lehr plays Maxine with admirable feistiness, raging against the dying of the light. Her delectable energy animates the play. Tracey Maloney has a single scene as the daughter. She bristles with a thrilling combination of anger and love. Wonderful. As Todd, Clarence Wethern is sweet, handsome – and scarily cynical. The scene in which he puts on a leather jacket and transforms himself is priceless.

And then, saving the best for last, there’s Regina Marie Williams as the pivotal character Tina. Prim and buttoned down, soft-spoken and poised, compulsively smoothing her uniform, face alive with edgy tension, eyes flashing, Williams’s Tina is utterly convincing. She makes Death Tax work. Brava.

See this one. Where else would you get to see the crème of the cream perform an enjoyable play like Death Tax?

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. Familius, Inc will shortly publish his book Tell Me A Story In The Dark. More info can be found on John’s (recently revamped) website.


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