Through May 21|
THE COUNTRY HOUSE Road Less Traveled Productions/RLTP Theatre
The Berkshires are one of America’s most scenic and least known tourist attractions, a range of tree-covered and steep mountains along the New York and Massachusetts border, Edith Wharton country.
Since 1954, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has been there, using facilities of Williams College and turning itself into a center of new shows and new scripts which will eventually show up on major stages.
Playwright Donald Margulies used all of that for his look at family turmoil in a theater family in a Berkshires summer house, "The Country House."
Three generations of a family are there, a year after a member of the family’s second generation died.
Movie star Kathy left behind actor mother Anna Patterson (Barbara Link LaRou), husband and tent pole summer movie director Walter Keegan (Peter Palmisano), angry daughter and Yale not-theater student Susie Keegan (Renee Landrigan) and ne-err-do-well brother Elliot Cooper (Christian Brandjes).
As the summer season rehearsals start up, Walter arrives with a new and much younger girlfriend, Nell McNally (Kristen Tripp Kelley).
Anna agrees to temporarily put up old family connection Michael Astor (Chris Kelly), who has returned from a hit (and renewed) TV show to refresh his theater roots, only to find his quarters aren’t ready because of a bug bomb.
Anna worries about her advancing age and slowing memory as she begins to work on Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” with Susie.
Margulies pulls a lot of family laundry out to set up the story:
Elliot’s one-time failed and flawed relationship with Nell, long ago.
Susie’s anger at her father for having a new female friend so soon after mom Kathy died in the house and anger at Anna for not only bringing Michael in but initially putting him in her bedroom.
Michael’s efforts to move into adulthood as he has become rich from his TV show has him considering abandoning a life of substances, women and song.
There are a lot of backstories in this and the continuing sniping between real actors who work on stage and those who have fled to movies and TV.
There’s nothing like a little family dysfunction to establish a base for a play, something we’ve known since the Greeks, who were really good at it, although they did tend to play up the blood and gore and not family sniping.
That Greeks family sniping may have been real blood but this isn’t, except to family relationships, present and future.
Here, director Scott Behrend has a strong cast playing this strong family, especially Brandjes and Link LaRou.
Their characters dominate the play.
There are no weak performances, although Margulies structures this with some characters given a chance to go center stage, as Walter defends his decision to leave the ill-paid stage and become a movie director and make a lot of money.
Dyan Burlingame contributed a set of the summer house we would all like to have, whether in Williamstown or Crescent Beach.
There’s also some well-done sound from Eric Burlingame.
Here, we are dealing with people who have made careers of drama, on top of the usual family events.
“The Country House” is well worth seeing, as theater people apply their careers to their lives.
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