“Family Play” (1979 to Present) at the New Ohio Theatre (Closed Friday May 16, 2014)

May 2, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Boo Killebrew, and Jordan Seavey
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to develop well-rounded and rich characterizations when one has not experienced directly or indirectly the significant conflicts and settings of the characters involved in a play or any other performance piece. Actors attempt that theatrical feat often with varying degrees of success. In the case of “Family Play (1979 to Present),” Collaboration Town’s ensemble-driven creative process does not give the young ensemble cast enough interesting content to be able to bring their somewhat lackluster characters to life. In four “sections” – each introduced by a different family “meal time event” – six talented actors spin around a large circular stage and hop on and off entering into a variety of “Readers Theatre” scenarios.

All of the scenarios fail to develop past the improvisational theatre level of acting class theatre games – except obviously the actors have clearly memorized their lines flawlessly and have received some manner of direction from Lee Sunday Evans. The fault lies not with the actors but with the material they are given to grapple with and with the sparse direction they receive: one actor (whose name will not be mentioned) evidences the exact same body movement and speech pattern for every character he plays whether that character is a child, teen, or adult. It is difficult to understand how a director could allow that to happen.

The life events “acted out” for the audience run the gamut of family feuds, beak-ups, make-ups, straight marriages, gay marriages, pregnancies, divorces, coming-out, going out, abuse, suicide, addiction, progressive families, parents who never should have had children, surrogate mothers, gender dysphoria (DSM-5), coping with aging and Alzheimer’s – to name just a few. The list is both kaleidoscopic and sometimes exhausting.

This is Collaboration Town’s statement of purpose: CollaborationTown (“CTown”) creates ensemble-driven works that defy expectations of how stories can be told in the theater. CTown creates imaginative, emotional, aesthetically sophisticated productions with a commitment to make work that is relevant beyond traditional theater audiences and speaks to many of the most pressing contemporary social and political themes.”

Unfortunately, in the case of this first installment of their two-year Archive Residency at the New Ohio, Collaboration Town has not created any new stories, any new ways those stories can be told in the theatre, and has not produced a performance piece that is relevant beyond traditional theatre audiences. Finally, although the contemporary social and political themes addressed are indeed among the most pressing, all have been dealt with in other places and other times with more depth and more sensitivity.

The audience here cares little about the families portrayed short of the occasional burst of laughter evinced when someone briefly recognizes his or her own life experience being depicted on the stage. The jury remains out on the rest of Collaboration Town’s Residency.