Exiles from the Sun
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 14, 2009
It's midnight at a "broken-down mansion by a lake." There are no close neighbors, and a schizophrenic psychopath keeps leaving creepy messages on the VanAukens' voicemail. Now, he's outside in the dark, stalking them.
Jack and Jill (ha!) VanAuken, a fortysomething married couple, are inside discussing a Theodore Roosevelt biography which Jill is reading. Roosevelt is a relative—cousin and/or uncle Teddy—and the VanAukens habitually talk about him like a familiar. They need to talk about Teddy because they need to believe they are part of American royalty since in reality the VanAukens are a pretty twisted bunch, barely surviving a disaster of failure and dysfunction.
I'm not revealing anything not in the press release to write that at the start of the play a character is shot dead. The play then unfolds, pretty much in "real time" until about 2 a.m. as the VanAukens decide how to deal with the aftermath of the shooting. The play is subtitled "Portrait of an American Family," and writer Brent Cirves reveals the dark hues of the portrait as family secrets come out throughout the two hours.
Cirves's script is sometimes witty and splattered with poetry, and there are some things that work about this play. I like that the killing—the play's major event—happens right at the beginning. That should create a momentum for an exciting chain of actions, but unfortunately, the story develops too slowly, and it's too full of exposition, especially for a play with a premise that promises suspense.
The VanAuken kids—Cat and Spike—do help make the work more interesting. Cat, an 18-year-old with piercings, tattoos, and skin-tight black pants, is played with appropriate, late-teen arrogant rebellion by Alex Cirves. My favorite moment of the play is when she sings an in-your-face parody of the "Jack and Jill" nursery rhyme while accompanying herself on the organ. Spike (Harry Averette) helps the action pick up in Act 2 when he gets into physical struggles with other characters.
I also loved Spike's fantastic makeup—uncredited, but perhaps designed by costume designer Laura Cirves. The long puffy scars laid out across his left cheek and his creepy pale blue eye nicely contrast with his preppy lawyer identity and his political ambitions.
Overall, I see potential in this play, but the script needs to be tightened up so that it moves from moment to moment with more purpose. As a fan of dark, suspenseful dramas (which is why I chose to review this work), I hope that this production helps the writer/director see how he can continue to shape the play's action.