NY Theater Review Susan Hasho
The Brightness of Heaven seems to be in part a conversation about Catholicism, and change. This play is about a very uncomfortable family. And this production so accurately sets the time and place of its story in the 70s, that the divide seems achingly palpable in this Buffalo, NY home. This is Irish Catholic to be precise, and a family enamored with show business—all of which justifies the musical moments which include a barbershop quartet. The playwright Laura Pedersen is a bestselling author and has a background in finance and journalism; and this play seems less autobiographical and more like a photograph. The pain expressed here seems without bias or an ax to grind.
Opening with sister-in-laws Mary Jablonski (Paula Ewin) and Joyce Kilgannon (Kate Kearney-Patch) dealing with cookies and talking; and one by one introducing the husband Ed Kilgannon (Peter Cormican), his son Dennis (Mark Banik), and Mary’s daughter Grace (Emily Batsford). Ed and Joyce’s oldest child Brendan (Bill Coyne) makes his appearance and brings in the first sign of conflict—he’s an unsuccessful actor with a drinking problem in conflict with his brother, the good son Dennis. Jimmy (James Michael Lambert), Mary’s son, is gay and wants acknowledgement if not acceptance of who he is. As the afternoon progresses, we figure out that Grace is wearing a scarf on her head because she pulls her hair out, and Joyce’s daughter Kathleen’s (Kendall Rileigh) abortion is then introduced into the mix. By the time dinner begins we have the ingredients for a fine kettle of fish.
Even with the predictability of the arguments that ensue, the writing and the acting is so good and the direction, by Ludovica Villar-Hauser, so subtle that you root for everyone in different ways and for different reasons. There are no bad guys or good guys in this conversation and in that lies the gentleness of the play—and is why on the subject of change, which seems at the heart of this play, Mary can say to Kathleen, “… my greatest hope for your child is that you’re always there for him or her. For the most part, that means not changing.” This seems like a very radical statement in a very radical period in our country.
The play may be about a Catholic family in the 70s, but on a deeper level it is about human beings grappling with the nature of love. That discussion has no era and has no end.
Live music: Kendra Jo Brook
The Brightness of Heaven through December 14, 2014
CHERRY LANE THEATRE 38 Commerce Street New York, NY 10014
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