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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
As this review is being posted, the play's quick move from stage to grave has been announced -- with the last session at this dreary resort scheduled for April 16th!
As in her last play, Impossible Marriage, Beth Henley has once again assembled a dysfunctional family. This time, instead of a happy event, a wedding, prompting the family get-together, a recovery center invites its patients' families to spend a week participating in the process. In the course of the week the four women whose participation in the mish-mash of therapeutic games we follow reveal bits and pieces of what led up to all this. While Ms. Henley's bent towards the quirky brings some comic moments, this play's billing as a comedy is misleading -- unless you think growing up with an alcoholic mother, a sexually abusinve grandfather, and a murdered family member are subjects for laughter.
The center is located in an unnamed desert, which quickly proves itself as a symbol for the four central characters' being stranded in unhappy lives -- the unhappiness being equal parts circumstance and longstanding patterns of dysfunction.
Claire (Angeline Phillips), the patient and central character is trying to regain a toehold on the person she was before her sixteen-year-old son became the victim of an unresolved murder. Claire's mother Lena (Rose Gregorio) and sister Rickey (Carol Kane) come voluntarily. Her teenaged daughter Kay (Julia Weldon) arrives under duress, more interested in practicing her cheerleading than trying to reconnect with the mother who's become a stranger. All bring their own emotional baggage, especially Lena ( troubled childhood, bad marriage, bout with alcoholism and guilt at not being a better mother) and Rickey (bad choices in men and work plus darker motivating factors).
Ms. Henley moves us through the seven days of the title event by having Claire, Lena Rickey and Kay act as one of the Center's counselors. They also take turns as solo narrators or interacting in duets, trios and quartets. Of the four performers, Ms. Kane who is the most seasoned portrayer of Henley women as well as a Taxi veteran would be a standout if she weren't gotten up as such a stereotypical, overripe loser, a refugee character who seems to have wandered in from countless other plays and movies.
The game playing actually heals a few wounds, but for the audience, even the play's few poignant moments can't keep the game playing from becoming pretty tiresome. Under Ulu Grosbard's boring direction, the hour and a half often feels like the whole seven days. For our last review of a Beth Henley play with a backgrounder on the playwright Go here.