Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Family Week

Posted by Mondschein

"Family Week" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, April 9, 2010

Beth Henley has revisited this work from 2000 courtesy of Jonathan Demme, making his theatrical directing debut.
It is familiar ground for Ms. Henley, this high-estrogen tale of an emotionally shattered mother Claire (Rosemarie DeWitt), self-admitted to "the best facility in the country" to come to terms with the unsolved murder of her son.  Coming in to assist during family week are her mother Lena (Kathleen Chalfant), sister Rickie (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and daughter Kay (Sami Gayle).

This production is something of a rework from earlier productions of this story, though I think there's still a good bit of work to be done.  Ms. Henley's knack for finding humor in the darkest of moments doesn't ring with the same intensity as found in other works, such as Crimes of the Heart, and  The Miss Firecracker Contest.

Mr. Demme has assembled a talented cast.  Ms. DeWitt gives an admirable performance as the unbalanced Claire, intoning the various mantras of the institution's psycho-babble-double-talk.  As we are continually reminded, it is "...the best treatment facility in the country," though no one ever supplies the credentials that Ms. Chalfant's mother of the patient demands.  Ms. Chalfant, ever professional, does seem to bridle a bit under the two dimensional character who seems as interested in maintaining a calm facade than opening up enough to help her struggling child.  Ms. Bernstine, playing Claire's (inexplicably black) sister, Jessica, has a grand time. Navel-gazing and self-important, she floats along for as long as she can bear it, finally abandoning the "healing" effort for another hare-brained, get rich quick scheme.  As Kay, Sami Gayle poses but never quite lands credibly as the surviving daughter, who has only attended after accepting a bribe from her father.

With this talent, however, Mr. Demme has fallen into traps that many film directors tend to when first attempting the stage by reaching for cinematic moments when a theatrical one is called for.  A prime example of this was one of Claire's emotional tirades staged such that she faced the stage left wall, closed off to most of the audience.  Film-wise, such a scene of the two characters in profile would be quite effective.  Here, we only lose the effect of Claire's emotion as we watch the back of her head.  Still, I hope he will keep at it.

Kenneth Posner's dry lighting emphasizes Derek McLane's desert spa-like setting.

Family Week runs through May 23.

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