Total Rating: 
August 18, 2017
September 13, 2017
October 1, 2017
New York
New York
Playwrights Horizons
Theater Type: 
Playwrights Horizons - Mainstage
Theater Address: 
416 West 42 Street
Running Time: 
90 min
Sarah Ruhl
Les Waters

Why do we want to grow up? Who wants the responsibility, the financial burden, the all-pervasive diligence and worry of having a house, a spouse, kids? Of course, when you come right down to it, what choice do we have in a life that’s full of choices, good and bad?

Kathleen Chalfant is such a fine actress that when she delivers her opening monologue in front of the curtain, for a moment we’re unsure whether or not she’s in character. It helps to come to the theater a little early to read in the Playbill “Words from the Playwright: Sarah Ruhl.” She explains that this play was written for her mother as a 70th birthday gift. Ruhl’s mom played Peter Pan in a community theater production in her hometown of Davenport, Iowa. A local newspaper arranged for Mary Martin, who was on tour at the time, to pose with the young actress. The youngster was so nervous, she forgot her script in Martin’s dressing room. The star returned it, complete with an autograph and a bouquet of flowers. This, no doubt, was a highlight of her life, and how Ruhl chooses to picture her mom. The time on stage is the 1990’s, the Clinton era, in Davenport, the heart of the Midwest.

We don’t actually get to see Chalfant flying around in green tights until the third act, mores the pity. A good deal of the play revolves around a room in a hospital, where a man (Ron Crawford) is slowly and audibly dying. His five children are in attendance: Ann (Chalfant), John (Daniel Jenkins), Michael (Keith Reddin), Jim (David Chandler), and Wendy (Lisa Emery). A choice here has been made to let the audience experience the tedium that’s involved in waiting for the end to come. Valid, but in the theater, once the collective audience mind starts to wander, it’s hard to return to being fully immersed in the action.

A discussion ensues; is it merciful or murderous to have more and more morphine induced to speed the end? The more pragmatic suggest that it’s the humane course of action. Ann sways the debate by remembering how wrenching it was to have to euthanize the family dog, here played by Macy, a dead ringer for Sandy, the woebegone pooch in Annie (Macy has just finished a three-year national tour, but is not too proud to admit that “this marks her New York theatrical debut”). At the moment before death, the dog looked up at Ann as if knowing and forgiving what was to come. Ann felt they had killed their pet, and declares, “I don’t want to kill dad.”

After their father passes, his children rather awkwardly say the Lord’s Prayer. The family wake that follows is full of drinking, remembering, and the kind of banter that’s common to brothers and sisters everywhere. They love each other, but they also know the buttons to push to best vex each other. While the cast interacts well, they come across as old friends, rather than as a family unit. Lisa Emery is especially interesting to watch; she projects a fragile, emotional vulnerability that adds an edgy note.

The most poignant moment of the show comes at the end of the first act. Dad arises from his deathbed as the lights are switched on in the family home. He goes through the front door. We see him playing with the family dog. Maybe his kids are doing their homework; maybe his wife hums, a little off key, as she readies the evening meal; maybe the daily newspaper is right by his favorite chair. Simple, everyday things we take for granted. But you know what? This is heaven.

Kathleen Chalfant, David Chandler, Ron Crawford, Lisa Emery, Daniel Jenkins, Keith Reddin, Macy
Sets: David Zinn; costumes: Kristopher Castle; Lighting: Matt Frey
Michall Jeffers
Date Reviewed: 
September 2017