By Geoffrey Decas O'Donnell, Boo Killebrew, and Jordan Seavey; Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 5.16.14
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 5.9.14
The cast of Family Play (1979 to Present). Photo by Hunter Canning.
BOTTOM LINE: A collection of conversations that holds up a mirror to human nature as the stages of life are explored.
Two years ago, the Obie-winning New Ohio Theatre and IRT Theater (which share space in the Archive Building) created the Archive Residency to give outside companies a two-year commitment of space, assistance and the opportunity to present a new work. CollaborationTown is one of the recipients and their premiere of Family Play (1979 to Present) is the fruit of this creative endeavour.
The company, which features playwrights O’Donnell (who is doing triple duty as the set designer) and Killebrew, is an ensemble of six actors, three men and three women (also including Eboni Booth, Jorge Cordova, Mark Junek and Therese Plaehn). Over the course of four parts and several dozen scenes, they go through the mundane and extraordinary moments that make up a lifetime. The skilled sextet inhabit little kids, teens, parents, and grandparents in relatable vignettes that range from joyous to heart-breaking or simply thoughtful. Part One starts at the beginning: childhood (1979 through 1989). Amongst these snapshots are parents who argue at the dinner table over how much help to give with homework, an anxious father trying to “school” his son on the proper Valentine’s Day card to give to a male classmate, a funny exchange between two daughters who tell their father they’re going to call Child Services because he spanked them and then ask him for the number, and a moving conversation between a father and daughter as they discuss Halley’s Comet and he navigates mortality.
At the end of Part One the cast breaks into song (Bouncing Round the Room) which is something they do before each of the next parts starts, but with different tunes. Part Two (1992-1998) touches on adolescence with its divorces, suicide, sexual confusion and exploration (a sister confronts her brother about stealing her collection of Tiger Beat magazines and in another scene two girls do Tarot readings and kiss), and struggles for independence (a mother criticizing her daughter’s hair tells her that unlike her friends only she will always tell her the truth).
Part Three (1999-2009) is preceded by the song When You Love Somebody and covers the post-high school territory of getting stoned, spirituality, STDs (a funny and empowering argument between a gay brother telling his sister that he’s “sex positive and when you are sexually liberated there are side effects now and then”), dating (one couple hilariously converses about having sex during the woman’s “ladies’ time”), and staying in touch with parents. Finally in Part Four (2010-2014), it’s the era of adult matters: having children (a father sweetly consoles his daughter who’s feeling friendless and scared, telling her that she’s not alone because he’s there), losing jobs, starting over, aging parents, and death.
Given the nature of the show with its unconnected scenes and characters, some are only a few lines and don’t leave a lasting impression. But in a number of affecting moments, using simple and unsentimental language, the playwrights capture some of the universal truths of our existence and all the loving, messy, confusing, comforting ways we interact with each other in the day to day.
(Family Play (1979 to the Present) plays at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, through May 16, 2014. Performances are Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 PM; Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM. Tickets are $18 are available by calling 888.596.1027 or online at NewOhioTheatre.org. For more information visit www.collaborationtown.org.