The Tin Woman is a winner by Ross Valley Players

Sammy (Isabelle Grimm, second from left) leads awkward grace for her dad, Hank (Keith Jefferds, left), and mom, Alice (Ellen Brooks), as the spirit of her dead brother, Jack (Jesse Lumb), joins in. Photo by Robin Jackson.

THE TIN WOMAN: Comedy by Sean Grennan and directed by Michael Barr. Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Ross. For tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go to  

May 18 – June 10, 2018

The Tin Woman is a winner by Ross Valley Players Rating: ★★★★☆

Ross Valley’s production of The Tin Woman is a very laudable tear-jerker infused with humor that is not balanced artistically to earn a five star rating. Despite the perceived flaws by this reviewer the totality of the evening rates a solid “should see.”  Unlike many plays were there is a problematic second act, The Tin Woman has a very solid second act that will leave you tearful and content at the same time.

The play based on a true event involves heart transplantation and the title is a reference to the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz who follows the Yellow Brick Road to the see the wizard who supposedly could/would correct that defect. Today there are many wizards able to perform such a feat that began in the late 1950s at Stanford University with Dr. Norman Shumway who later in 1968 performed the first heart transplant surgery in the United States. I was an intern and surgical resident who assisted in open heart surgery in those early years and my nephew had a very successful heart transplant.

Looking back, our primary interest was being successful in prolonging life of the recipient as our major goal with great gratitude to the families of donor. Author Sean Grennan has elected to focus on the mental status of both the recipient and the donor’s generous families.

Joy (Joanna Cretella) a 30+ year old woman has received a heart transplant from a man known only as Jack (Jesse Lumb) whose spirit hovers on stage during the entire play occasionally touching an object or a person.  But rather than be thankful for the extended life Joy spirals into depression insisting that she did not deserve the blessing (?) of life.  Joy wishes to meet the donor’s family and her best friend Darla (Sumi Narendran) informs her that the rules state she can only request to see the family by writing them a letter.  

When that letter is sent and received the family has mixed emotions.  Mother Alice (Ellen Brooks) is thankful for the chance to meet Joy. Husband Hank (Keith Jefferds) rebels and goes out on a drinking spree. The sister Sammy (Isabelle Grimm), a grade school teacher, a vegan and almost hippie is ecstatic. 

Joy arrives and the interactions are filled with conflict and humor. Joy’s declaration that she had been dying for years was ready for death and did not ask for a new heart is beautifully delivered and will get the tears flowing. Isabelle Grimm is a joy to listen to when she relays the story of Jack rescuing her from a bully when she was eight years old.

Author Grennan steals a page from Thornton Wilder’s  The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden inserting an informative scene of Hank and Alice in conflict while simulating a fateful drive home. Keith Jefferds nails this part of his time on stage and adds to his accolades when in a flashback he is in conflict with Jack. Ellen Brooks is absolutely perfect both in her delivery and portrayal as the distraught mother with the moderating influences need for this distraught family. Jesse Lumb excels as Jack’s spirit and even in his turn at actually playing a live character.

It may be that director Barr felt the evening needed added humor allowing Isabelle Grimm to emote in her beautiful monolog lecture to her students discussing flowers and eventual death. Sumi Narendran Cardinale’s role as a Darla was unidimensional with overacting that did not seem necessary.

The marvelous final scene was almost a happy ending for the evening and will not be revealed here. There is ample foreshadowing to give you hints to outcome. Running is time two hours including an intermission.

CAST: Joy– Joanna Cretella; Alice – Ellen Brooks; Hank – Keith Jefferds; Sammy – Isabelle Grimm; Jack – Jesse Lumb; Nurse/Darla – Sumi Narendran Cardinale.

Creative CAST: Director – Michael Barr; Production Manager – Maureen O’Donoghue; Costume Designer – Michael Berg; Lighting Designer – Ellen Brooks; Set Design – Ron Krempetz; Sound Design – Clint Bajakian; Property Design – Dhyanis; Set Construction – Michael Walraven; Stage Manager – Maureen Scheuenstuhl; Publicist – Karin Conn; Graphic Designer – Jayme Catalano; Photography – Robin Jackson.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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