By Amy da Luz
Directed by Bryan Conger
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The members of the Gordon family have secrets they hope will never be disclosed, embarrassing facts or simply undisclosed facts that, if revealed, might have a detrimental impact on how they are perceived by other family members or by the community at large. These “skeletons in the closet” can be kept at bay and remain hidden knowingly – consciously – or unknowingly – unconsciously – for a short time or a lifetime. Either way, these skeletons can affect the individual’s present in traumatic ways, manifesting themselves as dreams, as nightmares, or as diagnoses of mental illness vying to “remain faithful until parted by death.”
“Skeletons,” currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, exposes the skeletons in the Gordan family members’ closets. These skeletons do not act alone: the “baggage,” the “issues” – self-inflicted or inflicted by others – act in concert, as a matrix, like a dance perhaps. The play begins – after introducing the convention of exteriorized “skeletons” – with Ben’s (played with palpable dysfunction and a longing for surcease by Max Woertendyke) return from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt. He is escorted to his home by his sister Maddie (played with a stoicism marred by underlying guilt by Polly Lee) who left home and Dan ten years earlier for reasons that become apparent as the plot develops.
This event unleashes the Pandora’s Box of dysfunction that includes the arrival of the siblings’ mother Claire (played with a less than endearing core of denial by Anna Holbrook). Prior to this deleterious tryst, Dan and Maddie have attempted to cope with the past by “joking their way through it.” Though their skeletons might prefer that mechanism (for their ‘survival”), Claire’s arrival makes that option no longer viable.
While it is difficult to match the skeletons with their “living” characters without issuing a spoiler alert, the following are embedded in the dynamics and contents of the Gordon family’s shared closet and vie for supremacy and longevity: fractured childhoods; multiple failed suicide attempts; sexual abuse; abandonment; bad parenting; alcoholism; drug addiction; unresolved anger; and transference.
The playwright’s choice to objectify these skeletons makes for complicated staging and plot progression. This choice requires attentive and careful direction and precise choreography. Bryan Conger’s direction is adequate but does not address the complicated movement of actors and dancers needed to address the playwright’s choices. Alexandra Beller’s choreography seems overdone and disproportionate to the overall staging.
Perhaps the problem is the way Amy da Luz utilizes this convention. It is not clear that it is necessary to exteriorize the family’s discontents. And if it is deemed necessary, then the skeletons’ interactions should be more helpful in advancing the story line and their “personalities” should more specifically match those of their human counterparts. Sometimes less is more and here a subtler use of the skeletons might be favorable.
The cast (including skeletons Todd Coulter, Arica Jackson, and Allen E. Read) overall works hard to bring the playwright’s vision to the stage and are to be commended for their rich understanding of their characters’ emotional content and problematic pasts. Again, stronger direction is needed. “Skeletons” seems more a work in progress than a finished product but, even in its present expression, the play encourages examination of the psychosocial issues that either contribute to or preclude a state of mental health.