nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 6, 2005
Little Suckers, a new play by Andrew Irons, is very skillful, very intricate, and very intriguing. It's a puzzle of a play about a supremely dysfunctional family who cope with their inability to connect with each other by not coping at all: the daughter retreats deeper and deeper into a fantasy world occupied by imaginary friends from her childhood; the son (her twin) pursues his own delusions on the road, and ends up killing somebody; and their mother, who abandoned them emotionally and physically with increasing and alarming frequency when they were growing up, eventually quits them altogether, marrying a stranger and moving far away to the Florida Keys.
The sadness and desperation of these characters is palpable and fully-formed, particularly in Jessica Davis-Irons's vivid staging and in the remarkable performances of Margie Stokley (daughter), Ryan Bronz (son), and Erin Quinn Purcell (mother). Meganne George's tiered set is enormously helpful as well; it divides the big square Ohio Theatre playing area into three distinct spaces that don't physically touch one another: one for Lindsay (the daughter), another for Morrie (her mom), and a third—the largest—for that stranger, a writer named Bucklin, who kind-of rescues Morrie but in so doing dooms the kids. Bucklin, by the way, is portrayed by Arthur Aulisi, who gives another of the masterfully sturdy performances that have made him into one of downtown theatre's finest and most reliable actors.
The effective costumes by Becky Lasky add more detail; they're particularly ingenious for Lindsay and her twin brother Kennedy, with the same outfits, barely accessorized, serving both as children's play clothes and the unaffected day-to-day gear of grown-ups utterly adrift. Stokely and Bronz's uncanny ability to morph from kids to adults simply by shifting posture and attitude allows Irons's non-linear timeline to make sense to us: Little Suckers dances back and forth through decades and, thanks to the actors' and director's deft work, we always know where we are in the story's chronology and how old the characters are supposed to be.
But—and this is where Irons's dramaturgy lets us down a bit—we don't always understand why the characters are doing what they do. Determined, I think, to make his play as challenging as possible for the audience, Irons winds up withholding too much information from us, and the result is occasional incoherence rather than the elegant enigma that he probably intends. For example, he tells us that Lindsay didn't speak to anyone outside the family until she was 8 or 9 years old, and suggests that her relationships with others never progressed much beyond that point. But he never gives us even a hint as to why, and so I was puzzled, at the end, about this, especially given the fact that her preternaturally close twin did not seem to have this trouble and has managed to survive alone in the world beyond the family home for (we are told) a dozen years.
Similarly, there's precious little information about Morrie and the twins' never-seen father. She tells Bucklin that when things reached a certain point, she would just drive away by herself for a few days, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. This explains some things about Kennedy and Lindsay, but it doesn't begin to explain Morrie to us. Apart from grotesque selfishness, what makes this woman tick?
In the end, it was hard to care a lot about these people because we just don't know enough about them. Irons supplies an extravagantly near-gothic ending for his play (the little suckers of the title turn out to be leeches), but it doesn't quite feel earned. Neither does the essential bleakness that pervades this drama: what makes a writer want to plumb such dark corners so hopelessly and despairingly?