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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

Oh my god. I'm fucked. How do I know if I want him to write for the paper because I'm in love with him or if I'm in love with him because I want him to write for the paper? And am I overestimating his talent because I'm obsessed with him or am I unnecessarily hard on him because I'm scared that I'm overestimating his talent because I'm obsessed with him, and how do I know if he's working with me because it's the job he wants or because I'm the woman he wants or if I'm the woman he wants because it's the job he wants? - and if neither of us knows what the real story is,how is anyone else to know?
— Cynthia Nixon's "She" in the audience addressing Prologue that sums up what this contemporary take on Racine's Phèdre is all about.

Cynthia Nixon and Chris Lowell
Two plays in a row written and directed by women, and produced by a company headed by a female director. And both in the producing company's smaller venue. The first with an unwieldy title ( Io Saw My Neighbor On the Train and I Didn't Even Smile ) is by a fledgling playwright and has a cast without box office magnet names. Kinship, now having it's American premiere at the Nikos Stage is penned by the well-known, multi-talented Carey Perloff, staged by a distinguished and long-established director (Jo Bonney) and features a leading actor, Cynthia Nixon, with plenty of star power via roles on stage and in a long-running TV sitcom.

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.

Kinship by Carey Perloff
Directed by Jo Bonney
Cast: Cast: Cynthia Nixon (She), (Friend/ his mother) Penny Fuller, (He) Chris Lowell (He)
Scenic Designer: Rachel Hauk
Costume Designer: Candice Donnelly
Lighting Designer:Philip Rosenberg
Sound Designer: Fitz Patton
Stage Manager: Jennifer Wheeler Kahn
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission
Nikos Stage, Williamstown
From July 15-25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 19th matinee
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