Saturday, May 11, 2019

Curse of the Starving Class


In my review of the recent revival of True West, I observed that “over the years, the plays of Sam Shepard have held little appeal for me. For whatever reason, I seem to have little affinity for his sensibility.” Alas, there was nothing about Signature Theatre’s revival of this early Shepard play that led me to change my mind. This dark absurdist portrait of a family in rural California lacks even one character that I could root for. Weston (David Warshofsky; Biloxi Blues, Blue Window), the father, is an abusive alcoholic. Ella (Maggie Siff; A Lie of the Mind, Frank’s Home), the self-absorbed mother, is short on maternal instincts. Son Wesley (Gilles Geary; Hangmen) is sullen and nasty. Daughter Emma (Lizzy Declement; Lost Girls), newly arrived at puberty, is smart but volatile. To make any generalizations about the failing American dream on the basis of this family is not profitable. Shepard has burdened the play with too many metaphor-laden monologues. Director Terry Kinney (The Price, reasons to be pretty) has combined the first two acts into one, which makes for a long 90 minutes before intermission. The final act is shorter, grosser and more violent. As drunk Weston, David Warshofsky is far more persuasive than he is as sober Weston. Maggie Siff, whose performances on television (“Mad Men, Billions”) radiate intelligence and sophistication, is miscast as Ella. Gilles Geary and Lizzy Declement are quite strong as their children; both deserve a special prize for what they must endure — being covered head-to-toe with mud for her and a gross pig-out as well as a nude scene for him. For reasons unknown, the director has cast the role of Sgt. Malcolm with a tiny woman with a Latin accent (Flora Diaz; Playing God, Seven Spots on the Sun). Andrew Rothenberg is appropriately slippery as lawyer Taylor and Esau Pritchett (A Free Man of Color) is good as the blustery bar owner Ellis. Rothenberg and Pritchett also appear briefly as thugs in the final act. The lamb is cute. Julian Crouch (Hedwig, Head Over Heels) has designed an oversize kitchen that undergoes an amazing transformation in the play’s first minute that could serve as a metaphor for the entire play. For me it was downhill from there. Sarah J. Holden’s (The Price, reasons to be pretty) costumes suit their characters. Director Kinney shows an affinity for Shepard. If you are a Shepard fan, you may well enjoy yourself; if not, it may be a long 2 1/2 hours (including intermission).

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