Review by Tulis McCall
(6 May 2010)
At the end of this sad play about a woman’s grief we hear what is possibly the nugget of her misery. Her son was murdered, this we already know, but the details of the event and the subsequent events are left to the end of the play. They were the first riveting facts I heard and made me wish they had been given to us earlier because they changed everything.
This is one of those plays that surprise you because it has all the right people and still manages to fail before the finish line. On the positive side this is a story about profound grief – specifically a woman’s grief. We don’t get that so often in the theatre. We get men’s rage and anger, but rarely women’s grief, and the two often go hand in hand. Men’s anger is more active, and theatre is all about action so the argument could be made for focusing on men. Women’s grief is every bit as active, but it is on a microcosmic scale. We cave in, and it takes a writer of great perseverance to make that journey.
For whatever reason, Ms. Henley is not up to the task. Although the reason for Family Week is clear, the path is not. Claire (Rosemarie DeWitt) is in therapy, at an unnamed treatment center. Her therapy has reached a crossroad. It is time for the family to show up and be counted. It is time for Claire to measure herself within this circle and see if she can maintain.
No one wants to be there. Not her mother or daughter or sister. Each has come for different reasons and each would prefer to be somewhere else. Her daughter Kay (Sami Gayle) is in TeenAge Land where the most important elements of life are cheerleading and being popular, not to mention testing to see if her voice will shatter glass and dancing to tunes on her iPod that she clearly does not hear. The upcoming squad finals are way more important than a mother who has been gone for a year and shows no signs of returning. Her sister Rickey (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is an adult still on the prowl for her own self. Being trapped in a place where she must act neutral – no smoking, drinking or wearing sexy clothing - for a week is not her idea of fun. Claire’s mother Lena (Kathleen Chalfant) is there because she loves her daughter and is suspicious of the facility’s credentials. Lena would like nothing better than to spring Claire, but has no thoughts in the “where else” department.
That is pretty much where we start and pretty much where we end up. No one makes a breakthrough until that last moment where we see Claire reveal details that make the story come alive, and then it’s the audience that changes, not Claire. Presumably these very important details were common knowledge to the family, but no one discusses them. Kind of in the same way no one discusses why Claire is white and her sister is black, which the characters probably know, but it would sure be nice to clue in the audience. As it is, this little factoid is an impediment. I am all for interracial casting – big time – but don’t give me siblings of different races and not tell me why.
Lena does stay around for a one on one session with Claire in which there are some dicey revelations as well as a spark of human connection. Kay and Rickey, however, after their own one on one sessions with Claire that don’t go so well, each head out of Dodge back to the safety of the Devils they know. Their departure is aided and abetted by two family members who never make it to the clinic. Jim, (Paul T. Ridgely) Claire’s husband cannot come because of a court case and is sitting out the week living in the couple’s old house, the last home of their dead son, with minimal furniture while the new house sits empty and cluttered. Claire’s sister Jessica (Daisy J. Oliver ), is a high powered exec who is taking time for herself at her beach house because she is exhausted – with the approval of Lena.
Neither of these characters appear onstage, but do show up as loud-enough-to-hear phone conversations, which somehow warrant them being listed in the program as characters. This only adds to the murky quality of the evening as we wait for them to arrive in person.
A story about the slow progress of a woman weighed down with grief and guilt has either to go wide or deep. This play does neither. It is a lifeless piece born of good intention. Nothing that these fine actors can do is enough to give it a pulse.