Review by Sonia Roberts
We don’t need to yell! We can talk, just talk like normal humans, like regular people at any other Thanksgiving, my God, we’re all just trying to have a nice dinner!
After a successful run of My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer at The Flea last winter, playwright Brian Watkins and director Danya Taymor have teamed up once again on Wyoming, presented by Lesser America at Theater for the New City.
Thanksgiving is approaching, and the Tuttle family prepares to gather for what’s sure to be an eventful holiday – after all, their estranged brother Adam (Roger Lirtsman) is making an appearance after twenty years of being shuttled around juvie and mental hospitals for a childhood crime that his siblings seem to actually appreciate – killing their drunk, violent father with a strategically pointed pneumatic nail gun. Their mother? Much less appreciative. But the kids have a motive, see – shortly after collapsing, their father rose – as if from the dead – and wrote down a series of numbers, the combination to a locked box of secrets that was never revealed to them. After Grant (Nate Miller) runs into Adam at a local diner, and April (Sarah Sokolovic) invites him to Thanksgiving dinner, they, along with their brother Tom (Daniel Abeles) vow to get to the bottom of the secret that has haunted them for most of their lives.
Watkins slowly sets up the world with two-person scenes – Grant and Tom, flipping through slides of family memories over beers, a flashback of how their mother Maggie (Laura Ramadei) first met their now-deceased father Hank (Carter Hudson) at a dive bar, and April, on a date with her young daughter Sarah (Layla Khoshnoudi) in tow. The exposition creeps along at a snail’s pace despite the entire ensemble’s fantastic, nuanced performances, with long beats of silence being interrupted only by the honking cars outside the poorly soundproofed theater. Once we arrive at dinner (April is hosting this year), however, Watkins finds his rhythm, the tension mounts, and the energy is infectious. Adam’s arrival flusters Maggie and confuses Sarah, as not only has she never met her uncle before, but she isn’t used to people who don’t speak. The beer, wine, and gin flow as Maggie’s kids convince her to talk the only way they possibly can – through a game.
Well, umm… We go around, and each of us umm… each of us says a word and you make up a story together, on the spot, one word at a time.
And they do, even little Sarah joining in once she’s allowed to take off her headphones and ditch Tetris to play with the adults. Watkins nails each character’s mannerisms and ghosts on the head, getting more and more specific as they get drunker and closer to finding out what was in the box. The payoff, however, is disappointing, and ultimately feels like an unsatisfying conclusion to a play that’s otherwise deliciously brought us to the edge of our seats, and ends in a painful slumber – similar to how we started.
What seemed to be confusing directorial choices actually turned out to specifically be the playwright’s, as in the script Watkins states that it’s very important that a group of actors in the same age range, preferably twenties and thirties, play these characters. It’s unclear as to why it’s so important. Ramadei and Khoshnoudi both excellently stretch to embody women decades their senior and junior, respectively, but why should they? Do we really need that flashback with Maggie and Hank at the top of the play? Do we even need to see Hank at all (his ghostly presence, wandering around the Thanksgiving dinner drinking a beer, is glaringly unnecessary)? Other decisions were also difficult to understand – the miming of cutting a turkey and eating imaginary food, while characters unabashedly swigged beers. This particular theatre itself seemed like the wrong space for this play, and I often felt very far away from the action, though designers Edward T. Morris and Masha Tsimring do their best to bring us closer.
However, confusion aside – Wyoming is another beautifully interwoven story by Watkins, deeply rooted in its homeland and harboring the potential to stretch its wings further. The cast is a delight, especially Ramadei and Sokolovic, who desperately try to be nothing alike but mirror each other from drinking habits to unplanned pregnancies and unabashedly take hits at each other below the belt with glee. Though I hope for a tighter future version with age-appropriate casting, Watkins and Taymor have once again created a world that’s not the least bit comfortable, but we can’t help but sink our teeth into.
Photos: Hunter Canning
Presented by Lesser America at Theater for the New City
Through January 31 www.lesseramerica.com