Saturday, May 22, 2010




Written by Ellen Fairey

Directed by Henry Wishcamper

Starring Marin Hinkle, David Gelles Hurwitz, Brian Kerwin, Polly Lee, Matt McGrath

Performances through May 29, 2010

The Duke at 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street

A rather wan drama by newcomer Ellen Fairey, Graceland has the rickety feel of an outline for a probing character study yet to be written. The play follows siblings dealing with their father’s suicide. Sara, manager of an upscale Manhattan culinary store, is in her late 30s and has a weakness for younger men. (No daddy complex for her.) Sam, home in Chicago, drifts through life since his girlfriend Anna left (she fell for his now-dead dad): he quit school, smokes a lot of pot and delivers concoctions made from fruit and flowers.

After returning home for the funeral, Sara sleeps with Joe, a divorcee she picks up at a local watering hole; she‘s later caught by Joe with his 15-year-old son, Miles. Although it’s smart of Fairey to dramatize her many melodramatic situations, showing them rather than simply spelling them out through dialogue (with the exception of Anna’s affair with Dad). But very little that happens onstage has any dramatic or emotional impact, least of all a shred of psychological integrity. That Miles, Joe’s son, is an improbably mature teenager (at least as the charming David Gelles Hurwitz plays him) doesn’t make it any easier to watch him necking with Sara on his father’s couch.

Henry Wishcamper’s production (mainly Robin Vest’s set and Aaron Ryne’s projections) adroitly uses the Duke’s tiny space to its advantage. But Fairey’s blatant symbolism hurts: shrieking Blue Angels fighter jets fly overhead at all hours (even at 6 AM!), because an air show apparently is taking place over the entire weekend, and Sara and Miles actually discuss the jets’ significance at the play’s climax while sitting on the ledge of Joe and Miles’ apartment building (35 floors up!). The play’s ham-fisted title refers to the local cemetery where Sara and Sam’s dad is buried and where, natch, Miles works.

Graceland even straitjackets a resourceful actress like Marin Hinkle, who’s unable to create a palpably living, breathing character out of Sara. Fairey has talent, but Graceland only hints at it.

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