Extended thru July 17 . . .
By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
“There’s a part of me that really wants this program note to say ‘Corsicana is a small city in Texas. This play is about four people who live there. Thanks for coming.’ The end.”
So begins the lengthy, overly complicated program note from playwright Will Arberry about his lengthy, sometimes overcomplicated play Corsicana, now debuting at Playwrights Horizons. Like the play, the note unfolds in ways that give context and meaning to this often-beautiful, often-banal and deeply personal four-hander. But no amount of knowledge—not to mention the impeccable acting of the four-person company really does much to change one’s feeling that, at the evening’s end, you’ve simply spent two-and-a-half hours watching four rather difficult people trying to live.
Two of those people turn out to be based on Arberry and his older sister, Julia, who has Down’s Syndrome. Christopher (a very nerdy Will Dagger) and Ginny (the remarkable Jamie Brewer) are half-siblings grieving the recent death of their (shared) mother and are, unsurprisingly, both depressed, aimless and struggling to cope with the reality of their small-town lives.
Christopher, whose past traumas aren’t really explored until Act II, comes off worse; while he does hold down his job as a teacher at a community college, he can’t be bothered to shop for groceries. Ginny does little more than watch Disney Channel movies on her iPad and tries to periodically boss around Christopher, because she’s the “older” sibling. She loves music and the “plot” of the play revolves partially around whether she can complete writing just one song.
Unsurprisingly, Arberry captures their relationship (and many siblings’ relationships) precisely and lovingly—from the petty arguments to the sudden bursts of affection. Moreover, as he intended, Corsicana does provide a clear window into what it must be like for a grown woman to live with a body and mind that straddles adulthood and adolescence.
Still, Arberry likely realized a play just about these two people would perhaps be too static. However, the two other characters he throws into the work seem to belong in a very different (and potentially much more interesting) play. The first, Justice—portrayed with shattering honesty by 2022 Tony Award winner Deirdre O’Connell—is the town librarian and best friend of the siblings’ late mom.
She’s also a highly educated if unconventional woman obsessed with dinosaur ghosts, anarchism, and especially Lot (the supremely soulful Harold Surratt), an extremely introverted, self-taught artist who’s beginning to grapple with recognition of his work and being forced to interact with others—including Justice, Ginny and Christopher—after being alone for many years.
Like he does with Christopher, Arberry waits until late in the play to reveal Lot’s big “secret,” which goes a long way into providing valuable information about the character. Also, as with Christopher, once Lot unburdens himself, he can move forward to a fuller life. Both men’s pivotal scenes, each of which are played opposite the brilliant O’Connell, are the highlights of the work—and might have been better placed earlier in the play for stronger effect.
Director Sam Gold, who has long proved his skill in guiding actors to top-notch performances, also once again demonstrates that there is no work he can’t tamper with visually. For example, there is nothing in Arberry’s script to explain the simultaneously sparse, yet too complicated, set design of Laura Jellinek and Cato McCrea or his decision to keep the actors on the stage even when they’re not part of the scene. Nothing he does here is quite as distracting as the mumbo-jumbo now populating his Broadway revival of “Macbeth,” but his “touches” also add no elucidation to the story being told.
Thanks for reading. The end.
Corsicana. Through July 10 at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). www.playwrightshorizons.org