By Dayle Ann Hunt
Directed by Rachel Flynn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
In Dayle Ann Hunt’s uber-dysfunctional family play “Either/Or,” currently running at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, protagonist Deni Rutland (Courtney Bess) contemplates a way to escape the cycle of abuse and collusion extant in her nuclear family – a family that apparently has not made any effort to address the alcoholism of its head Herbert “Pop” Rutland (Joseph Rose) and the effects of his disease on the entire family system. Mother Edie Rutland (Mimi Bessette) – chief among the enablers – has simply succumbed to her husband’s abuse and allowed him to abuse his family for forty years.
On her fortieth birthday, eldest daughter Deni hopes she can successfully make it from New York City to Hollywood to enroll in a school to train as a professional makeup artist. She tried to extricate herself from the broken family system before without success. Her prior trip to the west coast ended in a meltdown in Phoenix. “Either/Or” takes place at Deni’s fortieth birthday party attended by her younger sister Lorriane (Kathleen Clancy) pregnant with her alcoholic boyfriend’s child and Edie’s favorite grocer Raymond Blackwell (Ken Perlstein) who is a recovered alcoholic. Edie hopes Deni will find Raymond a suitable candidate for marriage. One can easily see where this insipid script is headed. The characters have choices to either remain in the madness or find a way to escape into some self-realization.
As one would imagine, the birthday party is a total disaster: Deni discovers she was/is an unwanted daughter; those present discover the third sister – who has not been home for years – has just married her lesbian partner; and Mom and Pop Rutland’s racism is rampant. Unfortunately, there is nothing new in Ms. Hunt’s script. Her characters are mostly caricatures no one could possibly care about. Only Raymond is a character with an interesting conflict and the playwright does not seem to know what to do with him. The director certainly does not, leaving him standing upstage left muttering, “Maybe I should leave” over and over and over as he ducks dysfunction from all sides.
Rachel Flynn’s direction is all but lacking and the talented cast does its best to fend for themselves to make some sense of Ms. Hunt’s script. Actor Ken Perlstein deserves special mention for drawing on his considerable craft to stay present throughout the play. He knows who Raymond is and his endearing performance of a once-broken man seeking a meaningful connection is exemplary. If only that were enough to recommend a visit to “Either/Or.”