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A CurtainUp Review
Where We're Born
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!
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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