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Poetry Made Deeply Personal

Sue Gaetzman tells of her own tragedies in a solo show that tends toward the abstract.


It takes rare courage for Sue Gaetzman to walk onto a stage to share her life story.

Laying bare her emotions and letting tears flow freely in her one-woman show, "Blood Sugar," the 45-year-old writer-actress describes how death became her too-constant companion from 1997 through early '99 as it claimed her husband, her father and an older sister--all while Gaetzman herself slowly succumbed to diabetes.

Last year, one final tragedy brought the cycle to an end. After an 8-year-old boy was struck by a car and killed, his donated kidney and pancreas were transplanted into Gaetzman, enabling her to rebound from the insulin-deficiency disorder. That gift restored not only her health, but her capacity for hope.

It's an awe-inspiring story, yet somehow its power doesn't fully come across in performance at the Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood.

In part, this is due to Gaetzman's desire to express herself largely through the poetry she's written to record and process her feelings. Her writing tends toward abstraction, and so, instead of making events and feelings seem hyper-real, as the best poetry can, hers makes them remote, intangible.

Her fragmented storytelling--moody vignette after moody vignette, each begun with its title flashed on the back wall--also prevents the tale from jelling into a coherent whole, while an overall lack of detail leaves listeners struggling to fill in the gaps. (We never learn, for instance, what so untimely claimed her husband's life.)


What "Blood Sugar" does well is to depict how, both physically and mentally, diabetes can cut down a person, one piece at a time. Performing in a gray, institutional-looking setting designed by Thomas Buderwitz, Gaetzman bravely describes what the disorder has done to her body, making her feel less sexually attractive and forcing her to monitor her diet and health in ways that most of us would find overwhelming.

Especially touching are her memories of the deceased older sister, who retained her flashing beauty and fiery spirit even as diabetes stole so much from her.

Michael Michetti, a director who has demonstrated wonderful imagination in such shows as "A Midsummer Night's Dream," set in colonial India, and a recent "Sweeney Todd," has meticulously plotted the show's emotional beats with Gaetzman. But, frustratingly, they can't make the material achieve its potential.

Still, they leave the audience with these haunting and inspirational words: "When I see how far I've come," Gaetzman says, "I wonder how far I'm going."


"Blood Sugar," Tamarind Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends June 3. $20. (323) 960-4449. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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