George the Fourth
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 11, 2008
"Most families don't love each other enough to play at our level," says the caustic mom in the comically cruel play George the Fourth. But when she says love, she really means hate. They seem to be interchangeable to her. In this play, love is a sharp stick jabbed into the ribs. This makes for many very funny moments but for all the needling and cruel mind games, the play never delves into why the members of this family are so cruel to each other or why love and hate are two sides of the same coin.
David and Henrietta have been married way too long and perhaps never should have been in the first place. Their only daughter, Diana, grew up in an environment of malicious metaphors and relentless disapproval. She desperately tries to be normal but she can't seem to get it right. She brings home her new boyfriend, Hayden, who is a bartender at a gay strip club and occasional makes a little cash on the side as a gay prostitute. She has tried to bring other boyfriends home in the past but they never last more than a few minutes in her parent's house of brutality. Her father, for example, always makes it a point to be cleaning his guns when she brings a new boy over. But there is something about Hayden that the father takes to, and they become friends...well sort of. Possibly because Hayden is brutally honest and admits that he's drunk and gay and everything else within the first ten of meeting them.
David and Hayden go off to a bar together and bond on some level while Diana and Henrietta try to bridge the enormous rift in their relationship. Diana wants to win all the old fights with her mom. She thinks that she can trump all the cruelty by bringing home Hayden, but it backfires on her. Her parents see right through her and know that she only wants to hurt them and that her love for Hayden is just her idea of control.
Playwright Michael T. Middleton has a very clever way with words. His dialogue is sharp, acidic, and extremely elegant. This play feels as if Neil Labute had written Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Middleton manages to make us laugh at his characters' failings and vile wit, but he never really makes us feel something for them. They seem to be having the same conversations over and over again because they use the same tactics over and over again to needle each other. Nothing is resolved and very little is revealed about what makes these folks tick, with the possible exception of David who delivers a beautiful and exposing monologue at the end. Director Dina Epshteyn lends the production a very clear picture of this family. She keeps the dialogue moving fast, as if it were exchanging gunfire, and creates some good stage pictures.
The cast is very solid. Erin Krakow is perfectly uptight, desperate, and even a little innocent as Diana. Clancy O'Connor is so likeable and yet so contemptible as Hayden. Denise DeMirjian nails the cold-hearted sarcasm of Henrietta but her vocal pattern reminded me of Katharine Hepburn in her later days. Richard Pruitt really stands out as David. He balances all the maliciousness with some deeper human qualities and creates the most complete character.
I really enjoyed George the Fourth. I laughed quite a bit and in the end, I felt thankful for the mundane family I grew up in. I realized that I like to see bugs tossed into a jar and shaken up so they'll fight. If that's something that entertains you as well, you may enjoy this production as much as I did.