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A CurtainUp Review
Where We're Born
Where We Were Born. . .as part of the Fall 2013 Thurber Hill Town Plays Retrospective
This was one of the best of the earlier productions that's now getting a new life as part of a Thurber marathon sponsored by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater an.d Axis Company. This new version will be atRattlestick Playwrights Theater at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater 244 Waverly Place.From 8/14/13; closing 9/28/13. The new production notes are as follows.
Directed by Jackson Gay. Cast: Christopher Abbott, Daniel Abeles, Betty Gilpin, Nick Winthrop Lawson, MacKenzie Meehan. Designers: John McDermott (Set), Katherine Roth (Costume), Paul Whitaker (Lighting), Broken Chord (Sound). the New Ohio Theatre 154 Christopher Street. Monday at 7PM, Tuesday at 7PM, Thursday at 7PM, Friday at 8PM, Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM and 8PM.

by Les Gutman
Everyone's got to be a star in his own way.

Tom Sadowski and Marin Ireland
T. Sadoski and M. Ireland (Photo: Sandra Coudert)

With this new play, and its new season, Rattlestick adopts for itself a slight, but significant, name change. Henceforth, it will be known as Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The stated reason for the change is to better reflect its mission, which can be summed up as the nurturing and exposing of promising new playwrights. If Where We're Born is Exhibit #1 in validation of its intentions, it has gone far in making its case.

Playwright Lucy Thurber has written a play that trenchantly observes the human condition, circa 2003, utilizing the lamentable lives of a group of young adults in a small working class New England town as a paradigm. One might obfuscate its sweep by focusing on the particularized shortcomings of the subjects, but to do so is to miss the forest for the trees. Indeed, it is from the narrowness of the play's focus that it gains its strength. What is it, she asks us to ponder from a place of some remove, that renders us so hopeless, so lonely, so desperate? What she offers us is discomfiting, and compelling.

At the center of Where We're Born, we find Lily (Marin Ireland), who grew up ostracized by her braininess, and escaped down the road to Smith College, where her roots make her an outsider as well. She is bright but fragile. Now home on a school break, she's staying not with her mother (with whom she has an estranged relationship) but with her cousin, Tony (Thomas Sadoski). Tony has long served as her protector, and they share a special bond. Tony lives with his long-time girlfriend, Franky (Sara Surrey), who works as a waitress. She's beautiful and exudes a tough smartness of her own; they are in love, though Tony is not beyond a little outside verification of his manliness. The other two characters are Tony's friends, Vin (Jason Pugatch) and Drew (Patch Darragh), for whom Tony's living room seems to be a home away from home. Vin is a rough-edged (and bigoted) type; Drew is more of a hanger-on, who has a touch of the poet in him.

Booze and weed lubricate much of what transpires here, but this is not a play about a bunch of stoned and drunk young adults being silly. Green-eyed jealousy is also an accelerant, but it too merely occludes something deeper that's on display. Lily harbors a sexual attraction for Tony. An incident some time ago teased it, and it's somewhat obvious in their interaction, but it has not been acted upon. Interestingly enough, Lily has similar feelings for Franky. A chance opportunity for a sexual encounter between the two women thrusts Lily into an ugly triangle, worsened by the fact that she has a strong confessional streak that causes her to tell all, and quickly. A sexual encounter with Tony follows in short order.

Under Will Frears' scrupulous direction, this central story plays out affectingly. Its energy does not, however, sap the power from the under-story. It is that exploration of the emotional motivations for what we see on the surface that makes Where We're Born so resonant.

The performances of this fine cast add immeasurably to the show's pleasures. Ms. Ireland reveals her character's intelligence and immaturity in equal measure; Lily's struggles are palpable. Ms. Surrey radiates a settled-upon confidence in Franky, yet allows her frustrations to challenge her. And Mr. Sadowski straddles the line between thoughtless and thoughtful, measured and volatile. Patch Darragh is perhaps most surprising of all: his Drew exhibits perhaps the greatest suppressed self of the lot, and effectively carries Ms. Thurber's underlying theme. If Vin is perhaps the most "environmental" of the play's characters, Jason Pugatch nonetheless nails it. The creative team has also done a fine job in support of this effort.

Lucy Thurber succeeds in this play, particularly in the ways many so-called emerging playwrights disappoint. Her dialogue is thoroughly believable, her scenes are well-composed and she has something meaningful to say. To which I can only add with a high degree of optimism: Emerge! Emerge!

Where We're Born
by Lucy Thurber
Directed by Will Frears
with Patch Darragh, Marin Ireland, Jason Pugatch, Tom Sadowski and Sara Surrey
Set Design: Takeshi Kata
Lighting Design: Matthew Richards
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Running time: Two hours, with intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (west of 7th Av. between Perry and West 11th St)
Telephone: (212) 868-4444
WED - SAT @8, SUN @3 (no performance 11/27; $37.50
Opening November 17, 2003, closing December 21, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 11/15/03 performance

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