Survivor Diary

Rated 3.0

Think pink! October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good thing. There are reminders and pink ribbons everywhere to encourage women to educate themselves about the disease and to get a mammogram.

The campaign to get information out about this killer disease has evolved from grassroots efforts to wonderful national education campaigns. However, somewhere along the way, corporations have co-opted the idea and now use the cause to sell products. It’s disconcerting and somewhat crass to see ads for limited edition Cartier pink watches, Jimmy Choo’s Pink Ribbon Shoes and even KitchenAid’s “Cook for the Cure” pink mixer.

So, it’s refreshing that California Stage is bringing the focus of Breast Cancer Awareness Month back to where it belongs with a theater project that informs and entertains audiences about the disease, while honoring its victims and survivors. Playwright John Pellman first created his Survivor Diary through an eight-week workshop with breast-cancer survivors, ending in a one-time benefit performance in January 2004. Since then he’s rewritten and workshopped the piece, which is now at California Stage for a month-long run.

Through vignettes and overlapping dialogue, the play traces a number of women through their experience with cancer. Ten actors, all projecting real warmth and spirit, switch from narration to acting out scenes that reflect the journey of the cancer patient. These moments include diagnosis, self-questioning, treatment options, chemotherapy, radiation and the reclaiming of life. It’s a Cancer 101 primer, full of useful information and touching scenes.

However, with the abundance of statistics, and no strong story arc, at times the play feels like an HMO-produced guide to breast cancer. But in the end, the spirit of the play captures the amazing journey of breast-cancer patients everywhere.