Written by Polly Stenham
Directed by Sarah Benson
Starring Christopher Abbott, Maite Alina, Betty Gilpin, Cristin Milioti, Laila Robins, Victor Slezak
Performances through June 27, 2010
Manhattan Theater Club, Stage I
131 West 55th Street
Do we need another dramatization of the self-absorbed thrashings-about of affluent inbreds? Written by 19-year-old Polly Stenham, That Face begins as an elegantly nasty meditation on familial discord that's charted clinically; but Stenham uses her best cards early, and what begins as a gleeful satire soon turns sour and becomes more interested in “shock” for its own sake to diminishing returns until it limps to a tired finish.
During its 90 minutes, That Face recycles the same ground of other plays about dysfunctional families, in particular those of Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams, whose famous climax to Streetcar Named Desire is cribbed by Stenham in her final scene. This wouldn’t matter if Stenham had created original and not merely idiosyncratic characters. Instead, there's studied nastiness (the opening “torture” scene involving the overdosed student) and “shocking” family intimacy (Henry and Martha are first seen in bed together, and later he wears her clothes and jewelry in a scene that even surprises Mia and Hugh, as if they had no clue about their closeness).
Under Sarah Benson’s assured direction, all of the performances are laser-sharp, from Cristin Milioti’s Mia and Victor Slezak’s Hugh to Christopher Abbott’s Henry and Laila Robins’ Martha. This forceful, focused group of actors goes a long way toward making That Face more palatable than it has any right to be.
originally posted on timessquare.com