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Theatrical history has long proved that things don’t go at all well when three sisters get together for a family reunion. Channeling works by playwrights ranging from Anton Chekhov to Wendy Wasserstein, from Beth Henley to Tracy Letts, Melissa Ross‘ new play Of Good Stock, being given its New York Premiere by Manhattan Theatre Club, has a distressing air of familiarity in its depiction of a trio of squabbling siblings whose respective emotional issues are endlessly and loudly expressed. It may be cathartic for the characters, but for the audience, not so much.
Set during a July weekend in a summer home on Cape Cod — Santo Loquasto‘s gorgeous set will be a boon to the region’s real estate brokers — the play concerns a family get-together organized by eldest sister Jess (Jennifer Mudge) and her husband Fred (Kelly AuCoin) to celebrate her 41st birthday. The event is clouded by her currently being treated for cancer, the same disease that felled the girls’ mother at age 40.
Bequeathed the summer home by their late father, a notoriously womanizing famous novelist, Jess is hosting middle sister Amy (Alicia Silverstone) as she frantically prepares for her upcoming destination wedding to fiancé Josh (Greg Keller). Also visiting is youngest sister Celia (Heather Lind), soon joined by Hunter (Nate Miller), the affable new boyfriend she met while they were building Habitat for Humanity houses in Missoula, Montana.
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It doesn’t take long for secrets to be revealed and tensions to rise to the surface, with Hunter dropping the news that Celia is pregnant and Amy and Josh displaying relationship rockiness. Along the way there’s plenty of eating (of artisanal pickles, no less) and drinking, but those activities take a back seat to the constant bickering, which frequently results in dramatic exits.
To be fair, the playwright seems to be aware of the hackneyed formula to which she’s adhering. At one point Celia asks, “Why does everything have to be a therapy session?” Later, Jess complains, “I’m trapped in a bad chick flick.”
The latter sentiment is likely to be shared by the audience, especially when the play reaches its nadir with a drunken, late-night female bonding session in which they express their frustrations with a barrage of hurled F-bombs. Considering that the play was written by a woman, it’s rather disconcerting that none of the female characters has an identifiable profession and, with the possible exception of Jess, the men seem to be the sole voices of reason.
The evening is not always as painful as it sounds. Ross displays a flair for writing sharply funny dialogue, and the performances are generally fine, although Silverstone overdoes her character’s narcissistic traits. Some of the blame must go to the staging by Lynne Meadow, which fails to sufficiently modulate the overwrought proceedings.
If audience members were only allowed to bring in alcohol, they could at least enjoy a new drinking game. Down a shot every time a hysterical Amy or Celia runs up the stairs crying and you’d be wasted in no time.
Cast: Kelly AuCoin, Greg Keller, Heather Lind, Nate Miller, Jennifer Mudge, Alicia Silverstone
Playwright: Melissa Ross
Director: Lynne Meadow
Set designer: Santo Loquasto
Costume designer: Tom Broecker
Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Music & sound designer: David Van Tieghem
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club
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