Killers and Other Family
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
September 23, 2009
As the audience trickles into the Rattlestick Theatre, a young woman on stage works with serious dedication on her laptop. Papers are arranged into neat little piles on the floor. She recognizes the house music playing as what she is playing for herself in her modest and tastefully eclectic Manhattan apartment, designed with perfect detail by John McDermott. So, before the play begins we feel like we know this girl. She is responsible enough to keep a tidy home and knows herself well enough to create a comfortable place to live. When the lights finally went down the last thing I expected was the journey that this young woman was about to go on before my eyes.
As it turns out, this young woman is Elizabeth, performed by Samantha Soule. She lives with her roommate Claire, played by Aya Cash. In fact, it is Claire who she expects when the lights finally go down and there is an immediate knock on the door. Instead, there stand two men who clearly don't belong. They seem almost too big for the room. Grinning in their sloppy clothes and flannel shirts, they are an ominous presence though still incredibly engaging. Elizabeth is immediately uncomfortable and it is clear that her past has caught up with her. Elizabeth's brother Jeff, played with subtlety by Dashiell Eaves, has brought her ex-boyfriend Danny, the incredibly engaging Shane McRae. They have arrived on her doorstep in need of financial help.
What follows is a story that is not necessarily easy to watch. The play is bathed in alcohol, sex, cigarettes, and violence, all the makings of a very edgy drama. Part of the reason that this Killers and Other Family works is because there are so many revelations, so I hesitate to say too much more about relationships. What I can say is that the director, Caitriona McLaughlin, and the actors have masterfully created four characters who have completely different rhythms, are always interesting, and whom we somehow care about despite their despicability. These characters are incredibly flawed and somehow believably human in their craziness and each propels the story. The only exception to this insanity is the character of Claire, and Aya Cash gives a brilliant and honest performance. Frequently actors can be swept into the soap-opera-like drama that Thurber's script offers, and Cash avoids it beautifully. I never thought for a moment that she wasn't a level-headed, sweet person. She also doesn't allow herself to be a victim, performing the role with considerable strength. In fact, the ensemble really finds the strength behind Thurber's characters. The play is better for it.
The most noteworthy performance comes from Soule as Elizabeth. Soule takes us on a journey of an average grad student working on her final thesis for her "area of study" into a broken, pathetic piece of self-destruction, into the strength we wanted for her from the top. The actress works. She bares it all and no one can ask for more than that.
Although Thurber's script seems overly cathartic, somewhat childish at times, and didn't give me a truly lasting message to take with me, the dialogue is strong and the characters are well written. The acting in this piece is worth a trip to theatre to witness the latest Rattlestick has to offer.