Ann Talman ought to be a Pittsburgh landmark. She grew up here, and graduated from Upper St. Clair High School and Penn State. Moving to New York, she was quickly cast as Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter in the notorious 1981 Broadway production of The Little Foxes. More Broadway followed, as well as most of the important off-Broadway theater companies, with film and television credits, too. She even guest-starred on Seinfeld! Now having taken up writing, she’s back in Pittsburgh with her one-woman show Woody’s Order at the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s The REP.
So how come she doesn’t have streets named after her all over town?
Because all of the above has really been Talman’s second job; her main work, indeed the focus of her life, has been guardianship of her older brother, Woody, a man with profound cerebral palsy. When he was a child, he forcefully made his wish known for a baby sibling. When Ann was born, her mother wrote on her photograph, “Woody’s Order!” and it was always understood that Ann would learn to care for him since, at some point, her parents would not be able to.
At the cost of career and relationships, she’s filled that destiny admirably. And now Talman looks back over her life as her brother’s keeper, and working actress, and puts those thoughts, stories and reflections into this play.
It’s an evening of intense emotion as Talman surveys a tumultuous past. Woody’s well-being hasn’t been her only challenge — there’s also familial substance and alcohol abuse, emotional and physical illness, and mind-boggling exhaustion. At one point, she’s dividing her time between Los Angeles, New York, her brother’s nursing home in Allentown and her father’s nursing home in Pittsburgh. (In his later years, he becomes afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.)
What pulls her, and us, through it all is not only the great love she has for her brother, but the support he gives her and the sense of home she feels with him.
Talman, no surprise, is a quite capable performer, and the guidance of director John Shepard makes this a deeply moving journey of pain, compassion and, ultimately, love.