Black Box New Play Festival
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
June 7, 2007
There's a scene in the Gallery Players' production of Joe Lauinger's play Bury Him where two teenage characters, after realizing that they're long-lost half siblings, start getting sexually playful and curious with each other in the way that only teenage virgins do when they're home alone. Their friskiness is cut short when the girl's mother comes home and complains that the place "stinks of pussy" and threatens to cut the guy's balls off (they are, after all, half-siblings).
There's another scene where a wealthy Manhattan socialite invites, among other people, a working-class single mother from Flushing and her teenage son to her enormous penthouse for dinner, where the son proceeds to steal contents from the bar and sneak off to flirt with his aforementioned half-sister.
If this play sounds like a mash-up of Noel Coward, Philip Barry, and Alan Ball, you may be right—though, not really. It's a comedy of manners and a farce in a way, but it's incredibly contemporary (and features a lot of crass sex talk, lesbian sex, and incest) and somewhat grounded in reality. It also has some emotional moments that are totally real and believable. That the incest featured in this play is sweet and romantic gives you an idea of what kind of play this is.
It opens with the announcement of the death of McMaster Philips, a modern-day Rockefeller/Trump-type "Pillar of Society," in an amusing news clip (featuring a montage of doctored photos of him shaking hands with Mayor Bloomberg, Nelson Mandela, and Quincy Jones). We then meet the people he's left behind.
There's his ex-wife Clio, a bisexual feminist performance artist; their 15-year-old daughter Natalie, a coquettish Catholic schoolgirl obsessed with the story of Joseph and Mary; his secret illegitimate son Eric, an 18-year-old stoner who's recently befriended Natalie; Eric's mother Susan, Mr. Philips's one-time secretary and lover; his second wife and widower Claire; his biographer Richard, who's been having an affair with Claire; and Sally, a lawyer who is Clio's lover.
Richard now wants to marry Claire, not necessarily for love, but for publicity for his forthcoming biography of Mr. Philips. They discover that Mr. Philips had an affair years ago with Susan and Susan never went public with either the affair or the paternity of their son, Eric. Richard wants them over so Eric and his mother can pledge confidentiality.
Claire wants them (as well as Clio, Natalie and Sally) over because she considers them all family and wants to renew ties with everyone now that her husband is six feet under.
Clio wants to know how much money, if any, her former husband left her. Natalie wants to use their influence to get Eric into NYU. Eric just wants to get into Natalie's pants.
Every single actor and actress in this play is likable and charismatic. Every single one. I don't mean every character is likable; the opportunistic Richard is a contemptible little slime and Clio is far too abrasive and self-absorbed to be likable. I mean Matt Zhender and Heather Siobhan Curran are very likable performers playing those roles.
Zhender and Curran, as well as Robert J.D. Spaulding, Justine Campbell-Elliott, Emily Ann Hagburg, Patricia Lavin and Margaret Loesser Robinson, exude such a sense of warmth, fun, and believability that you can't help but thoroughly enjoy watching every one of them on the stage from beginning to end.
The set, by Stephanie Shipman, is also excellent: simultaneously realistic and fully realized as well as simple and practical.
You'd think the words "zany," "over-the-top," or "heavy-handed" would apply, but for some reason they really don't. Neither do the words "sensitive," "tender," or "delicate." I mean, they do every now and then for individual scenes, but not for the play as a whole.
"Likable," however, would apply, as would "enjoyable." Although not the most original script, this is a very—there really is no other phrase—gosh-darned enjoyable show, thanks (in no small part) to the cast and Alexa Polmer's simultaneously believable and cartoonish direction.