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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Anna (an attractive, understated (Kristen Bush) and Sean (Patch Darragh) certainly don't have a lot in common. She's a poetry scholar who has turned her PhD thesis into a book. He's an Irishman free lancing as personal trainer. They meet only because she adjusts her profile on an internet dating web site to downplay her interest in education, ambition and money since that emphasis matched her up with professional guys but not the romantic soul mate she was looking for.
Though different in background and education, Anna and Sean, like thsy crow and the stork, are both lame. Their lameness is psychological, the result of painful early childhoods. She lost her mother and is unable to be close to her father. Sean grew up in Ireland with a mother terminally depressed and agrophobic as a result of a horrendous childhood trauma which broke up the marriage and left Sean fatherless. Both Anna and Sean have been unlucky in love. Anna's unsatisfactory romantic history is made clear in the opening scene which has Simon, her self-serving, pompous grad school professor end their affair with a motor-mouthed, callous monologue. (Matthew Rauch plays both Simon and a brief role as less devious character). Sean, still haunted by an affair with a woman as damaged by drugs and drinking as his mother was by her childhood trauma, has dated a lot of troubled women.
So yes, this is a romance. But though the difference in education, careers and geographic origins don't keep Anna and Sean from finding joy by being together, this is not one of those old-fashioned our eyes locked across a crowded room love affairs that quickly leads to the altar. In the course of following Anna and Sean's years of not-quite togetherness, Doran also explores their other relationships — Anna's with her father a world traveling army Colonel (Cotter Smith), and her manic-depressive but devoted friend Helena (a terrific Laura Heisler) who often drives her crazy; Sean's with his mother (a poignant Suzanne Bertish ), his uncle (well done by Bill Buell) and, at one point, with the first girlfriend (Molly Ward ) who haunts the landscape of his mind.
What distinguishes this from other relationship stories, is that over the course of the play's 15 scenes we also get drawn into the feelings and back stories of Anna's father and Kay, his dying mistress (Kit Flanagan), as well as that of Sean's mother. Most endearing, amusing and fully developed is the luckless Helena, a made to order role for Laura Heisler who seems to specialize in portraying quirky funny-sad characters like this. Heisler's Helena contributes most of the play's humor, yet she's also incredibly touching whether looking for a burial spot for the dog who's meant more to her than her family or when she's almost killed by a bear and once again proves unlucky in love. The bear is a great touch. (The program gives no credit to this quite realistic creature).
As we get to know all these people it becomes clear why Doran called her story Kin rather than something like A Fine Romance. Lasting happiness for Anna and Sean means that their union will somehow form a new extended family including everyone (well, not Sean's old girlfriend or Anna's womanizing, phony professor who ends up extravagantly fawning over the project he previously rejected.
Sam Gold, who's become something of a specialist in helming finely nuanced, character driven plays like Circle Mirror Transformation elicits wonderful work from the entire cast, and keeps the many scene shifts from ever feeling rushed or frantic. Set designer by Paul Steinberg has created a flexible and effective white frame that is manipulated by the actors which makes for an organic flow from one playing area to another. Excellent lighting, sound and costumes complete Playwright Horizons as always excellent production values.
T Bathsheba Doran is a busy playwright with numerous commissions (including this one) and awards to insure that we'll have a chance to see more of her work -- hopefully all gems like this one which I highly recommend.
Following are links to some of her work reviewed at Curtainup.
Great Expectations- Dicken adaptation
Living Room in Africa