by Brian Scott Lipton
From Anton Chekhov to Beth Henley to Wendy Wasserstein, the particular dynamic of three female siblings has proven to be catnip. Now, we can add Melissa Ross to this illustrious list with Of Good Stock, which is receiving a beautifully acted, directed, and designed production at Manhattan Theatre Club – Stage 1.
Like many of her predecessors, Ross knows how to craft believable, interesting characters, funny lines, heartbreaking dialogue, dramatic plot points, as well as men who are more than appendages to her women. Yet, despite all of its plusses, the play ultimately feels a tad insubstantial.
The Stockton sisters are: eldest Jess (Jennifer Mudge), the pseudo-mother of this decidedly neurotic brood; self-absorbed and narcissistic middle child Amy (Alicia Silverstone); and sassy, if flighty, youngest, Celia (Heather Lind). While all of them reside in New York City, they rarely see each other there. Instead, they are now converging for a summer weekend at the stunning Cape Cod home (gorgeously rendered by Santo Loquasto) that was owned by their late father, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and notorious womanizer whose own behavior (especially towards his late wife) has clearly affected the mental health of his three daughters.
It’s also the physical health of Jess, who is turning 41 during this fateful weekend, that provides much of the play’s drama. She is being treated for breast cancer (although Ross, unwisely, never reveals what stage) and fears she will suffer an early death like her mom. Her semi-defensive attitude about her illness has put a crack in her obviously solid marriage to her slightly older husband, Fred (Kelly AuCoin), a renowned food writer who feels he can’t fully communicate with his wife.
Mudge and AuCoin, two of our most dependable stage actors, are quite remarkable here, and one often wishes more of the play was devoted to their struggle, which feels far more real than Amy’s constant temper tantrums (despite excellent work by Silverstone) or her melodramatically drunken breakdown after her beaten-down fiancé Josh (a fine Greg Keller) suddenly abandons her.
Meanwhile, Lind is very funny as the bohemian Celia, and she’s well matched by Nate Miller as current beau Hunter, a college dropout from Missoula who seems out of place in this upper-crust clan. But as much as Ross wants us to believe in this unlikely pairing (and even stresses it may not last long), it never rings completely true.
The bigger issue here, though, is Ross never makes the stakes high enough; the sisters need not get to Moscow, or have one be acquitted of murder. Sure, this “Stock” is tasty, but it really could use a bit more meat in it.
Of Good Stock. Through July 26 at Manhattan Theatre Club-Stage 1 at City Center (131 W. 55th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). For tickets and information, call 212-582-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.