Oberon Theatre Ensemble's latest show, A Thousand Variations On a Lie Told Once
, brings up a subject that I'm very fond of and well-versed in: family dysfunction. A dear friend likes to say, "the play puts the Fun back in dysfunction!" (wish I could steal that line) and I have to admit, she's right.
Three adult daughters come home on Christmas Eve to meet their mother's new fiancé, their father having died when they were very young. It is mentioned in the opening scene between the mother Abby (Linda S. Nelson) and her fiancé, Patrick (William Laney) that the girls hardly ever come to visit; in fact, this is the first time they have all been together in six years. Once the doorbell rings, the proverbial shit hits the fan.
Sure, this isn't August Osage County
; we're not talking Long Day's Journey
; and there are areas of the script that could be edited or changed - I think a rewrite or two could be seen on the horizon.
However...the script is a damn good script, with moments of hilarity in the middle of angst-filled scenes, so even as one is wiping away a tear, they find themselves laughing. Playwright Stacy Lane has done a fine job portraying how family secrets can often turn around and become much larger than they originally were.
I found myself engrossed in all of the actors' performances.
The eldest daughter, Whitney, (Laura Siner) has possibly the most interesting secret of anyone; so much a secret, in fact, that the character doesn't even know it until the end of the play. Having been an eldest daughter, I appreciated her characterization of protecting her younger siblings and taking charge. I thought she was very "in the moment" with her fellow actors and was a joy to watch. Her playfulness with her middle sister and her scenes with her mother towards the end were beautiful. She adds a strength to the triad of daughters that remains throughout the show. Her stoicism works well in contrast to the "drama queen" quality of her middle sibling (a quote from the play). Whether this was the actress, a direction from Fryman, or a mixture of both, remains to be seen - but who cares, it worked.
Rena, (Dianna Martin) is entertaining as the, as she calls it, "infamous middle child." Both she and her older sister try to verbally tear down their mother's new beau, and both Martin's character and the actress are interesting to watch as she veers from throwing nasty verbal assaults to being a dejected and frustrated child.
Anna, the youngest daughter (Jane Cortney) has possibly the most difficult role in the play; her sisters constantly cut her off throughout the show and almost leave her with no voice of her own - except when she really commands the stage. Cortney does a lovely job as the daughter who has the least animosity towards her mother, and is full of life and energy throughout the play as a character trying relentlessly to keep a struggling family from killing each other. Even during times when she has very little dialogue, she is listening to her fellow actors and an important presence on stage.
All of the actors are, actually. Mother Abby is heartbreaking as the mother who just gets by telling "white lies" her whole life, never realizing that they are snowballing into an abyss between her and her daughters. Some of the scenes between her and family, albeit broken up by a well-written moment of hilarity, were heart-breaking, and during the performance I was attending, there were quite a few moist eyes in the audience.
Patrick is endearing as the poor, unfortunate soul to walk into this house of family horrors...and although he tries to maintain the peace, when he is asked to do something that goes against his moral fiber in order to make Abby happy...the internal struggle is apparent. His journey from "the really nice guy everyone would like" to the man who looks like he just survived a nuclear holocaust is very well done.
All of the actors are dealing with each other and working really well with each other - and really talking and listening. One can't ask for more. There are some moments that I feel the actors are aware of themselves on stage, and the tendency to go a little over the top occurs now and then, among all of them; however, when you are in a theatre where the audience is practically sitting in your lap and you have people in the front row with their legs halfway in the middle of the stage (those audience members should be shot; it should be part of a given when they enter the theatre), and given some of the humor of the play, its difficult to not want to go in that direction at times. Thankfully, that happens rarely.
Set in the Abingdon Theatre Complex's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, Director Brad Fryman does a really good job working with a three-quarter thrust stage. It's my understanding that he designed the set, which was perfect (home-spun living room Christmas scene). I felt that sometimes actors seemed to move because they were told to...not because there was a real reason for them to do so, and that is my only real issue with the directing...I have a problem with directors that move an actor for the sake of moving them instead of having it look natural. Other than that, I think he brought together a good ensemble.
I've read two reviews thus far about this play online and I think they were uninformed, written by people who either were in a bad mood when they came to see the show, the piece wasn't their cup of tea, or they simply just missed the whole point altogether (I was going to say they were just plain retarded, but then someone might call me a Bitchy Actress. Oh dear!). Although they really only attacked the play, not the cast or director, I am wondering: do these reviewers come from Beaver Cleaver homes? Does a dysfunctional family mean that you have to pop a bunch of pills, shoot some heroin, and drink a quart of vodka and call it a night? Because one "reviewer" (I use quotes because the person obviously sniffed glue before they walked into the theatre...so I really can't think of it as a review - but the same could be said about me, but I'm not highlighted on a big Marquee as a "reviewer" so....) mentioned something about "...the actors operating at too elevated a state of alert to convince us these people could have survived 20 years without strangling each other."
I guess Matthew Murray missed the part about the fact that the family has not gotten together in six years (mentioned several times) or that they never see each other because they fight a lot (mentioned even more)...and I guess Mr. Murray has just never seen a family where people really fight like that and still deal with each other at holidays. Perhaps he lives under a rock? I'd say so. Maybe he should come over to my house during Thanksgiving.
Judith Jarosz, another so-called reviewer who apparently spent most of the show in the bathroom, said, "They make sarcastic reference to Abby and Patrick's age difference, which at a mere eight years seems laughably inconsequential for a play set in this century.
" -- Again, I have to ask: WHAT? They mention it at the beginning at the play. Then it's done. I'm sorry, but it doesn't seem completely implausible to me that the two daughters would make mention of this issue as something to be snarky about, considering that the idea of their mother re-marrying after all these years is probably very hard to swallow..especially if they are choosing to be nasty. I think that Ms. Jarosz, whose bio says that she is "an actor, producer, director, choreographer, writer, editor, and theater geek" needs to figure out which one it is, because I think all that running around has left little time for her to sit down and think about what she's actually writing about. Or listen to the play she's seeing, for that matter. She also calls the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre at the Abingdon a "...very awkward tight performing space.
"...which really, I think, sums up where this woman is coming from -- I mean, if she's going to start attacking one of the great theatre complexes in the off/off-off bdwy community...she should focus on full-on Broadway and leave the smaller stuff to the people who are trying to create something. I mean...that's ridiculous. The Abingdon is a fabulous theatre.
Anyway, I was impressed by the show. There are some problems...but they are few and far between, and nothing that a few re-writes and some more work on stage can't fix. I have been seeing a lot of crappy theatre lately, on Broadway, off-broadway, and off-off; this was well worth the time. The show is enjoyable and both I and my two friends walked out of there happy to have seen it.