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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
Every family has one person who is the switchboard or connecting link between everyone else. In The Weatherbox currently being given a world premiere by Rattlestick Productions that switchboard character is known only as Mother (Johanna Leister). She is a woman whose drinking and lack of talent for mothering made "a war zone" out of the house where she raised a daughter and two sons, (one by a man she picked up in a bar). All are still tied to this festering umbilical cord by mixed emotions of love and resentment. Mother's iminent death from cancer has brought all three to the house that was never a home in a last ditch attempt to heal their psychic wounds. While only Dylan, the youngest, is visibly scarred (by the effects of drug addiction, all three need to look at the past in order to lay it to rest. Carol while outwardly successful, with a career and a child of her own, has slipped into the mother's pattern of too much drinking and child abuse. Tom the nerdy computer programmer seems unable to commit himself to a full-featured life.
But before Carol and Dylan can see the dying mother, they must battle Tom who has turned her bedside into a fortress. You see, Tom, unlike Carol who wants to confront rather than embrace her mother and extract an apology for her most egregious acts, is determined to give his mother the loving care she never gave him. In his own way, he too wants an apology, by making her see that she could have chosen another path. In the meantime, however, he declares himself to be Cerberus. (In case you forgot, Cerberus was hell's vicious three-headed guard dog inVergil's Aeneas).
It is Tom's patient caretaking and Carol's explosive entry into the house that sets the scene for Travis Baker's affecting mix of realism and poetic fantasy. The crackling exchange between brother and sister, after the latter literally crashes her way into the house provide sufficient clues to present as well as past problems. The sop to this Cerberus , who in Aeneas was put to sleep with a cake of honey and poppy, turns out to be self-inflicted. Taunted beyond endurance, Tom loses control momentarily and punches his sister so hard that he has to take her to the hospital for medical treatement. This leaves the "gate" unguarded when Dylan arrives.
It's easy to understand what attracted the author of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Three Tall Women to this young playwright's work and help bring it to fruition as a Rattlestick Production. While according to an interview with the playwright in Rattlestick's newsletter, Albee counselled him to focus on his story's realism, enough of a poetic fantasy vein remains to separate this from movie-of-the-week problem dramas. The scenes between Dylan- and the mother temporarily roused out of her morphine-induced sleep resonate with emotional power.
It is Dylan, (as in Dylan Thomas since the man who probably fathered him was a poet), whose quest for identity is responsible for the play's title. The weather box is a figment of his dreams, yet more solid than the cardboard box of family memorabilia he at one point retrieves from the attic. In it he is sure lie the answers to all the questions that have haunted him (and everyone else in this troubled family). Whether the stone box of Dylan's dreams or the death of the nameless mother will truly move this family forward without the emotional baggage of the past is subject to what you bring to this play -- just as your enjoyment is subject to your openness to new talent. That means you must be willing to overlook the letdown in the second act, where the dialogue seems to run out of steam and the playwright fails to end things with the same incisive bang as first half. Certainly, the company and director Kim Levin have given Mr. Baker's first play a fine production, well supported by the cast and set designer Catherine Chung.
A Consumer Note: The Theatre Off Park Home is a small comfortable space, located in the heart of Greenwich Village. With the tickets at a bargain priced at $15, you can afford a nice dinner at one of the many equally bargain priced bistros that abound in that neighborhood. If you're fond of home-made pastas, you might want to check out one of my favorites, Grano Trattoria at 21 Greenwich Street (at the corner of 10th Street). The terrific green bean with hot shrimp appetizer is big enough to share. The service is friendly and unrushed.