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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Elyse Sommer
Carey Perloff's contemporary take on Racine's Phèdre is a fascinating idea, and Cynthia Nixon is indeed giving a no-holds-barred performance as a woman having it all (Powerful newspaper editor plus nice home with a devoted husband and children) who becomes obsessed with a young man she hires to help her paper move into the digital age. Jo Bonney has staged it with impeccable smoothness.
But a funny thing happened between Perloff's inspiration to turn Racine's story of an older woman's passion for a younger man into a new play in which passion and power collide. To add a dash of mystery Perloff created a third character to double as the obsessed editor's older friend who happens to be the mother of the object of the love struck woman's obsession. A good idea, especially since Penny Fuller, who plays the double role is, like Nixon, an outstanding performer. While she doesn't disappoint and her characters allow for alternating scenes between the young man and his boss-lover and mother, it's unfortunately an idea that doesn't provide any surprises for the audience. What's more, Kinship ends up being more talky than sexy.
And speaking of sexy, though Nixon fully displays her increasingly volatile emotional state, Chris Lowell somehow doesn't bring enough sizzle to "He" to make us buy into the relationship. Maybe this is partly due to Ms. Bonney's otherwise excellent helmsmanship went amiss in directing him to play things cool and understated, as well as the way costumer Candice Donnelly has dressed him (unlike Nixon and Fuller's spot-on outfits). At any rate, Lowell though an attractive enough actor, fails to project the sexual charisma needed for us see what makes him so irresistible to Nixon's "She."
Maybe the temperature would have been raised with "He" played by Stephen Pasquale, the very pulse raising romantic lead in Bridges of Madison County which premiered at WTF. Another small-cast play, Nick Payne's Constellation not only starred another potentially sizzly "He" — Jake Guilenhaal. — but also raised another question: Might Ms. Perloff been better off not relying on an old classic and aiming for something completely original; for example, Mr. Payne's highly original and successful 2-hander. . . the above mentioned world premiere by fledgling playwright Suzanne Heathcote's less high profile but very fresh take on the dysfunctional family genre now in Stockbridge . . .or, Perlow's own decidedly original 2005 play Luminescence Dating .
My above quibbles notwithstanding, my companion was sufficiently smitten with Cynthia Nixon's and Penny Fuller's performances, that he didn't start punching holes in the play itself until the ride home. Nixon isn't on stage all that often, and Perloff directs more than she writes, so despite its flaws, Kinship is a summer theater event you may not want to miss.