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A CurtainUp Review
By Jenny Sandman
Hampton's current wife, Susan (Irene Walsh), wants him to get better, and to repair his familial ties. She invites Hampton's estranged son, Steven (Drew Hildebrand) to his hospital room. Steven is amenable to reconciliation. He too was an alcoholic and convinces his dad to join him in AA.
Hampton makes some progress at AA, and so Steven brings his sister Laura (Kate Benson) on board. She's much more resistant to her father's overtures since his heavy drinking ruined her childhood. Laura's 14-year-old daughter Crissy (Jenny Seastone Stern) is excited to finally know her grandfather who, emboldened by his new sobriety, apologizes to his first wife, Nancy (Laura Esterman). But unbeknownst to everyone, Steven is hiding some very dark secrets, and ultimately it isn't Hampton's drinking that splinters the family. What first appears to be a play about alcoholism is really a play about a whole host of dysfunctions.
This disturbing play would probably be even more powerful were the script not so choppy. Each scene is short and usually requires some sort of set change. While these changes are nimble, and not more than a few seconds each, the production feels jerky and a little rough. The stage is almost completely bare, with blankets and chairs are the mainstay props. Though this paucity keeps the scene changes brief, ot does at times feel as if the action is taking place in a void.
Fortunately the cast is strong. Standouts are Gerry Bamman as Hampton and Drew Hildebrand as Steven. Bamman manages to play a sodden drunk without appearing completely pathetic, and Hildebrand plays a charismatic pedophile. Those last two words usually don't go together so It's to Hildebrand's credit that the audience actually laughed through most of his seduction scene and that his Steven seemed charming and reasonable— so much so that we realize too late what a danger he actually is.
Thomas Bradshaw (Strom Thurmond Is Not A Racist, Cleansed) is an up-and-coming playwright, fresh from his success in September of Southern Promises at PS 122. His work is a natural match for The Flea, and director Jim Simpson ably deals with the difficult subject matter.
Despite being a little rough around the edges (particularly the last scene with Hampton's contrived and a bit too erudite exit), the playwright, director and cast all make a great team. They make me hope to see more of this partnership in the future.