EXTENDED THRU SEPTEMBER 22 |
Theater Review by Brian Scott Lipton
The power (and limits) of imagination. The ways we repeat (and defy) our own family history. The ways we lived then (and now). These are heady subjects to throw together in one play – especially one that’s only 80 minutes long, yet that is exactly what Bess Wohl does in Make Believe, now at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater under Michael Greif’s solid direction. And it’s only somewhat surprising that this brief amount of time proves to be both not enough (and also, in some ways, too much) for Wohl to tell such a complex story.
The entire play takes place in one large, over-decorated attic (beautifully designed by David Zinn) where we first meet the four Connelly children: the mature Kate (Maren Henry), who “believes” she’s the real daughter of Princess Grace; the too-grown-up-for-his-own good, foul-mouthed Chris (Ryan Fourt, a standout); the adorable Addie (Casey Hilton); and the cutesy Carl (Harrison Fox) who only speaks in animal noises and may indeed be mentally challenged.
The foursome has been left intentionally (and not) to their own devices: their mother has mysteriously disappeared and their father, unaware of this development, is on a Willy Loman-like business trip. It’s the 1980s (which I think is supposed to explain why no one actually checks up on them), and they spend their time not only playing as kids back then did, with dolls and secret hiding places, but also re-enacting their parents’ obviously unhappy marriage, complete with nasty insults, excessive “drinking” and table-clearing tantrums. (It sometimes feels like we’re watching a children’s version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”)
Smartly, Wohl slowly teases out what may have happened to their mom, and there’s some particularly clever business involving the house’s answering machine and the doorbell. But for all the excellent effort by the four young actors, this early section begins to feel overly repetitive long before Wohl moves the clock three decades forward.
Instantly (there’s no intermission), we’re back in the attic – this time for a family funeral. (Who has died turns out to be a bit of a twist – so if you don’t want to know; stop reading.) Kate (the excellent Samantha Mathis) is now a Seattle-based doctor — still a little bossy and yet far more neurotic and less level-headed than we might have anticipated; Addie (the superb Susannah Flood) is an L.A.-based actress with her own mixed feelings about being a mother and a handy prescription for Atavan, and Carl (a rather histrionic Brad Heberlee) has learned how to talk – apparently he’s helped to create Google – but never really figured out what to say or when to shut up.
Reunited on this solemn occasion, they rehash a bit of their past, mourn a bit of their present (which includes dealing with their father’s second family, rather blisteringly called only “The Scandanavians” and end up trying to make sense of Chris’ death by overdose, mostly by questioning his former co-worker and much younger “friend” Chris (the studly Kim Fischer) who has ended up in the attic, courtesy of Addie. And indeed, it’s Chris who holds the most valuable bit of information which, once revealed, turns out to be the one thing we – and they – should have imagined, but probably never did!
While it’s far from a perfect play, the truth is Make Believe is, nevertheless, a highly affecting and deeply human piece of theater.
Make Believe runs through September 15 at the Tony Kiser Theatre (305 West 43rd Street). Visit www.2st.com for tickets and information.