BOTTOM LINE: A serious, heavy show but with a lot of humor and funny moments. If you like shows where your mind races and your emotions are pulled in every direction then get ready. If you're looking for a bubble-gum-show, this ain't for you.
An intense look at a day in the life of a woman with a past on the day when it comes crashing in to haunt her, Lucy Thurber's Killers and Other Family, playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is anything but light fare. Thurber has a way of sucking the audience into her story, filled with issue-laden characters. There are many themes in this play, ranging from incest to family to changing sexual preferences to worlds colliding, but it is Thurber's characters and their relationships with each other that make this play so gripping. Excellent acting and the really deep places that the playwright goes make this an emotional, cathartic play worth seeing. Thankfully, Director Caitriona McLaughlin finds humor throughout the piece to help balance the overall serious tone.
Speaking of humor, Mclaughlin gave actress Aya Cash one of the funniest, best entrances I have ever seen. Cash plays the role of Claire. Claire is Lizzie's (Samantha Soule), live-in girlfriend. Lizzie thinks she has successfully reinvented herself by moving away from her rural town to the big city, and by earning a higher education. She has left her past behind, problem is her past hasn't left her. When girlfriend Claire comes home from work she is greeted- very unexpectedly- by Lizzie's brother Jeff (Dashiell Eaves), and close family friend/ex-something or other, Danny (Shane McRae). Let's just say, Cash's entrance brings down the house. Once Claire realizes who the two men are, things settle down, and she understands that there is nothing to be afraid of...or so she thinks.
The entire cast bring solid performances and well-rounded characters to the story. Especially engaging is McRae's portrayal of Danny, Lizzie's and later Claire's (and, come to think of it, Jeff's), worst nightmare. There is something charming about the way McRae handles this gruff, unimpressive, dangerous man. As soon as Danny enters you know that he is a loser, but that he is one of those losers that somehow gets the really decent girl who is way better than him, and you wonder how the hell he did it - well, McRae's figured out how. He is pretty darned scary. You know you should be afraid of him and that you should hate him but you don't, and in the end you feel sorry for him.
Thurber's story takes some unexpected twists and turns, keeping the audience on their toes. Her dialogue is incredibly realistic and natural and she gets some difficult ideas across without being the least bit didactic. The play definitely draws some gasps and tears from the audience, not in small part due to the excellent acting (the entire cast really becomes their characters, fully transforming into them on stage) and great direction (Mclaughlin manages to create a true "fly on the wall" feeling, and she reels you in to a false sense of security with humor before she hits hard with a heavy moment). A very solid production, Killers and Other Family is an emotional roller-coaster that will leave you speechless.
(Killers and Other Family plays through October 17th at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (off Seventh Avenue South – between West 11th & Perry Streets). Performances are Monday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. There will be no show on Saturday, October 10th. Tickets are $45.00 and are available through SmartTix (212-868-4444) or www.smarttix.com. Visit www.rattlestick.org for more info.)