nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
May 2, 2010
There's a great deal of promise in MCC's production of Family Week, a revival and revisal of Beth Henley's play. It's directed by the prolific filmmaker Jonathan Demme and stars a cast of Rosemarie DeWitt, Kathleen Chalfant, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and Sami Gayle. So how does it all go so wrong?
This is a play that could be about redemption. In the end, it doesn't end up being about anything except unhappiness. DeWitt is Claire, a patient in a recovery center in the desert (designed with a capital STERILE by Derek McLane) to help her cope with the murder of her son (not to mention an eating disorder, depression, anger management issues, and a pending divorce).
Her daughter, Kay (Gayle), bored and with a sack full of stories of abuse, along with Claire's mother Lena (Chalfant) and sister Rickey (Bernstein), all with demons of their own, have come to the center to reconnect and heal during Family Week. Claire's soon-to-be ex-husband and other sister are not in attendance. The women work with Sandra, one of the center's counselors and the actresses take turns playing this role.
Demme may have a huge screen resume, but he's never directed for the stage before—therein is one of the biggest problems. His staging is so flat, so static, that it makes the 75 minutes of the piece feel like hours. It springs to life—but only for a moment—toward the end. In essence, he has directed this play to an invisible camera, each scene finishing with a slow fade into the next.
The performances he draws from the cast fall all over the spectrum. While DeWitt is both unconvincing and one-note on stage, her performance struck me as one that would work particularly well on screen. Gayle and Bernstine are extremely shrill and overwrought, very startling compared to how demure DeWitt is. Only Chalfant delivers a performance fit for the stage, deeply shaded and intelligent.
Henley's play, first produced (to mostly negative reviews) in 2000 but never published, has been revised several times over the course of this production (the script is a collage of revisions, with at least 20 different dates listed on the pages, from the end of February to the end of April of this year). Reportedly scenes have been shuffled, the ending has been changed, and a would-be prologue (to lighten the mood brought on by a particular scene towards the end) was dropped. I don't know if the play was always this one-note or boring, but it could be a result of all the changes.
Only in one instant does everything come together. It's Lena's dream sequence, where her daughters and granddaughter, all playing Sandra, help her try and figure everything out. It's mind-boggling, yet ingenious.
Too bad the rest of it isn't at that level.