Eye on Theatre Who Exactly Lives Here? By JOHN SIMON

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SIMON_John - headshot SIMON_WeLiveHere-The cast of We Live Here-PC-Joane MarcusThe cast of We Live Here. Photo by and courtesy of Joan Marcus.>>>

Is there any topic the New York stage has been more steadily bombarded with than the dysfunctional family? Or, more precisely, the dysfunctional Jewish family? Well, here they seem to be again in Zoe Kazan’s “We Live Here.” The only reason I think they may be Jewish is that so much art, academicism and culture in a family bespeaks Judaism to me, but perhaps I’m being unduly philo-Semitic.

Kazan_zoeIndeed Zoe Kazan (pictured right), better known as an actress, is the granddaughter of the great Greek-American director Elia Kazan, who was also a gifted novelist and autobiographer, and the daughter of screenwriter parents , which means that literary talent may have been born and bred into her, as evidenced by the play’s lively dialogue. But lively dialogue doesn’t guarantee acute insight into character or superior sense of dramatic structure. 

Let me say right off that “We Live Here” is not incompetent, but also that I wonder whether the eminent Manhattan Theatre Club would have produced it had it been written by Joe Schmidlap’s granddaughter. While it does not exactly smell of amateurishness, neither can it suppress a faint aura of nepotism.

It takes place in a New England summer shortly before the wedding of the family’s elder dasughter, Althea (Jessica Collins), to the good-natured, if somewhat too laid-back painter, Sandy (Jeremy Shamos). No less laid-back is Althea’s father, Lawrence

(Mark Blum),  a professor of classics and authority on Aristotle. But mother Maggie (Amy Irviing) makes up for all that laid-backness by being distinctly, if I may coin a word, laid-forward.

By this I mean a nosy busybody, passive-aggressive and impervious to perfectly legitimate criticism. Also, I’m afraid, a bit overwritten. Would any mother short of a severe neurotic, which Maggie isn’t supposed to be, have the cheek to open, way before the wedding, her temporarily absent daughter’s wedding presents, and then claim that she was merely trying to be helpful? With such a mother, Althea and her younger sister, Dinah (Betty Gilpin), would have every right to be more messed-up than they are.

Dinah’s problem is merely being a trifle slovenly (I stress the trifle), and what one critic has called her “neediness and antsiness.”  But there is also some irresponsibility, or what else would you call inviting Daniel (Oscar Isaac) as her date for her sister’s wedding?

This Daniel, who understandably hasn’t set foot in the family home for years, has been the indirect cause of a major tragedy. He was, when they were both teenagers, the boyfriend of Althea’s twin sister, Andi, who discovered him screwing Althea on the living-room couch. Whereupon Andi was so upset that she promptly hanged herself.

Now I am perfectly willing to believe that such an in flagrante epiphany might have dire consequences, but suicide by hanging seems rather too much of a bad thing. Unless, that is, Andi was the catastrophic nutcase of the family, which would call for closer inspection of her by the family and  by the playwright.

What may surely be questioned is why Dinah  (apparently quite a gifted composer—it is as a Juilliard student that she reencountered Daniel, now her teacher) would be so insensitive as to invite Daniel to be her date at Althea’s wedding, granted that she’s been sleeping with him.  As for Daniel, besides causing Andi’s suicide, he is also the sort  of thirty-something teacher who beds an 18-year-old student. What a world! Or what a play!

Here I am tempted to suspect that Dinah is a part Zoe Kazan has written for herself in some future production, and that  may have to do something with her own past. Such suspicion may, of course, be uncalled-for, and does not in any case either add to or subtract from the  worth of the play.  It may have been prompted in part by the title “We Live Here.” What doe it signify? How does it relate to the action of the play? I hope it doesn’t purport to suggest that we all live such lives.

Be it said, though, that John Lee Beatty’s set design is as usual impeccable, that David Zinn’s costumes are spot on, that Sam Gold’s direction is understatedly effective, and that the entire cast is above reproach. The only thing that is wanting is the play.

John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review,New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. He reviews books for the New York Times Book Review and Washington Post. He has written profiles for Vogue, Town and Country, Departures and Connoisseur and produced 17 books of collected writings. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.

To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Daniel, who understandably hasn’t set foot in the family home for years, has been the indirect cause of a major tragedy. He was, when they were both teenagers, the boyfriend of Althea’s twin sister, Andi, who discovered him screwing Althea on the living-room couch. Whereupon Andi was so upset that she promptly hanged herself.

Now I am perfectly willing to believe that such an in flagrante epiphany might have dire consequences, but suicide by hanging seems rather too much of a bad thing. Unless, that is, Andi was the catastrophic nutcase of the family, which would call for closer inspection of her by the family and  by the playwright.

What may surely be questioned is why Dinah  (apparently quite a gifted composer—it is as a Juilliard student that she reencountered Daniel, now her teacher) would be so insensitive as to invite Daniel to be her date at Althea’s wedding, granted that she’s been sleeping with him.  As for Daniel, besides causing Andi’s suicide, he is also the sort  of thirty-something teacher who beds an 18-year-old student. What a world! Or what a play! 

Here I am tempted to suspect that Dinah is a part Zoe Kazan has written for herself in some future production, and that  may have to do something with her own past. Such suspicion may, of course, be uncalled-for, and does not in any case either add to or subtract from the  worth of the play.  It may have been prompted in part by the title “We Live Here.” What doe it signify? How does it relate to the action of the play? I hope it doesn’t purport to suggest that we all live such lives.

Be it said, though, that John Lee Beatty’s set design is as usual impeccable, that David Zinn’s costumes are spot on, that Sam Gold’s direction is understatedly effective, and that the entire cast is above reproach. The only thing that is wanting is the play.

John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review,New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. He reviews books for the New York Times Book Review and Washington Post. He has written profiles for Vogue, Town and Country, Departures and Connoisseur and produced 17 books of collected writings. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.

To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.

 

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eHeziEye on Theatre Who Exactly Lives Here? By JOHN SIMON

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