"Benefactors" presented by Keen Company at Theatre Row, April 2, 2011
Photo: Richard Termine, Theatremania
Once again, Carl Forsman and Keen Company prove that producing off-Broadway with a limited budget doesn't have to look like community theatre. Their current revival of Michael Frayn's Benefactors is a well-paced and thoughtful presentation of two couples in semi-urban London, struggling to be helpful to each other without getting too involved in each other's business.
It's the late 60s and David (Daniel Jenkins) has been assigned the impossible urban renewal task of tearing down a shabby and dying neighborhood, and building new housing to increase the population density, while improving life for the residents. His wife Jane (Vivienne Benesch) supports the effort, surveying the displaced and helping push the change through. Neighbors Colin (Stephen Barker Turner) and Sheila (Deanne Lorrette) spend as much or more time at Daniel and Jane's than they do at home. Sheila can't quite seem to get ahead of the tasks of running her household, preparing meals and seeing to their two children. Most days Jane feeds everyone tea and dinner.
As the project faces political opposition, Colin loses his job, and he and Sheila struggle and separate. Colin takes up the opposition's cause, increasing the already heightened tension after Sheila has moved in with David and Jane.
Colin, David and Jane all serve as benefactors in one form or another. Colin, pushing the agenda of the political opposition, David, trying to build better housing for the less fortunate and ultimately, Jane, who ends up helping everyone in one way or another throughout the play.
Director Carl Forsman has assembled a strong cast and generally keeps things moving along. There are a couple of scenes that get bogged down in the construction and design details where additional visuals might have helped. Ms. Benesch's Jane is the most powerful performance of the evening, balancing love and loyalty to her husband while making the effort to find and express her own voice in the heyday of "Women's Liberation" at the time. Dane Laffrey's simple and elegant set conveys both the period and the concept of construction with walls of gray-washed plywood.
Benefactors runs through April 30, 2011.