By admin on Jun 11, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
The children are out of control screaming at each other, refusing to share and disagreeing about everything, which seems normal enough in many families, except that in A.R. Gurney’s Children, playing at the Westport Country Playhouse, the kids are all adults and they are fighting over their mother’s home.
Gathering to celebrate the Fourth of July at their New England summer home (rendered as a lovely house exterior and terrace area by designer James Noone) are the matriarch, known only as Mother (Judith Light), her divorced daughter Barbara (Katie Finneran), her school teacher/coach son Randy (James Waterston) and his wife, Jane (Mary Bacon). Their actual children are also in attendance.
A letter from mother’s to her other son, Pokey, telling him of her intention to marry “Uncle Billy,” an old family friend, has prompted him to also join his well-to-do family for the holiday - the first time he's done so since his father’s swimming accident (or perhaps suicide) five years ago.
Because of the terms of the father’s will, ownership of the summer house will transfer from Mother to children upon her marriage and this revelation unravels family secrets and disparate needs as the siblings disagree over what should be done with the house.
Barbara wants to winterize the place so she can live there year-round with her longtime boyfriend, a married construction company owner who used to work on the estate grounds and whom Mother considers beneath her socially. Randy, whose main goals in life are being right all the time, chasing his pretty wife around and beating Pokey in tennis, believes resurfacing the court is top priority. Pokey insists they need an expensive seawall instead.
Despite not being seen on stage except in a brief silhouette near the end of the play (a conceit that works thanks to John Tillinger's direction), Pokey is a menacing and controlling force as he manipulates his family. He opposes the marriage, accusing his mother and Uncle Billy of cheating while she still was married and demands his third of the property in cash.
Mother first tells Barbara, Randy and Jane to kowtow to Pokey, his controlling wife and his uncivil children in the hopes that he’ll change his mind about forcing a sale of the property and accept Uncle Billy. The strategy fails, however, and finally she is forced to take on the role of adult, proffer some discipline make some difficult choices and fix the situation.
The play, based on a John Cheever story, gives us a glimpse through a window (albeit an expertly lighted one complete with coastal effects by designer Rui Rita) into the characters’ lives rather than a door of a fully developed story through to follow them. It needs some editing and parts seem unrealistic, but Gurney creates nicely developed characters given depth by the actors, particularly Light whose comedic timing gives the otherwise rigid and distant Mother some legs. Also causing a chuckle are songs evoking happy family times and memories in between scenes (Scott Killian, original music/sound design) and some ’70s-era platform shoes (Jane Greenwood, costumes).
---- Lauren Yarger
Children plays at the Westport Country Playhouse (25 Powers Court, Westport, CT) through June 14. Performance times are Tuesdays at 8pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $30-$55 and can be purchased by calling 203-227-4177 (toll free 1-888-927-7529) or by visiting www.westportplayhouse.org. Student and educator discounts are available.
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