Blood from a Stone
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
January 11, 2011
A family of enablers is the focus of Blood from a Stone, Tommy Nohilly’s first produced play, directed by Scott Elliott for The New Group.
This meticulously acted drama is very much a first play from a promising writer. The dialogue is crisp, there are superb two-or-three-person scenes that will no doubt be used in acting classes, and the characters are juicy. As a whole, though, it is a meandering work that doesn’t add up to much.
Blood from a Stone takes place over the course of a few disastrous days in the life of a working class family in New Britain, Connecticut. Son Travis (Ethan Hawke) has returned home, briefly, to say goodbye to his family before a road trip. While there, he finds himself dealing with all of the people he’s trying to escape: Bill and Margaret, the angry parents (Gordon Clapp and Ann Dowd) who hate one another; Matt, the gambling addict brother (Thomas Guiry); Sarah, the sister he actually gets along with (Natasha Lyonne); and Yvette, the high school ex-girlfriend, a married mother of two who now lives next door (Daphne Rubin-Vega).
As the play progresses, we learn that Matt is about to move back home, to the chagrin of Bill and Margaret, unhappily married with lovers, who, until now, have consistently supported Matt’s addiction. To Travis, they consistently provide cash and pills, though they disapprove of his smoking. And that ceiling just keeps falling down whenever it rains.
What the piece lacks is dramaturgical support. Originally a three-act play with two intermissions, Elliott and Nohilly edited the play down to two acts. The first, clocking in at an hour and forty-five minutes, is a real butt-buster; chock full of exposition and not much story. The best scene, involving a romantic encounter between Travis and Yvette that’s interrupted by Sarah, isn’t even necessary to the plot. The brief second half is far stronger and a lot more interesting, as that’s where everything comes to a head.
Elliott’s production is straightforward, with a few nifty stage effects (the set is by Derek McLane, with special effects by Jeremy Chernick), and all-around marvelous performances. Hawke nicely underplays Travis, the pain-killer-addicted former Marine, who is glad to take money from anyone that offers. Clapp and Dowd are delightful as the angriest set of parents since James and Mary Tyrone. Guiry is impressive as Matt, a character I wish Nohilly had focused on more. Lyonne and Rubin-Vega are too good to be so under-used, and their characters are too unnecessary, as they are.
It’s excellent that a company as reputable as The New Group would take a chance on an untested writer, let alone allow an untested writer’s work to open their season. Nohilly’s work shows promise. It just needs to be better focused.