Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bloody Mess

Dowd and Hawke in Blood from a Stone (photo by Monique Carboni)
Blood from a Stone
A play by Tommy Nohilly
Directed by Scott Elliott
Starring Gordon Clapp, Ann Dowd, Thomas Guiry, Ethan Hawke, Natasha Lyonne, Daphne Rubin-Vega

Performances through February 19, 2011
The New Group/Acorn Theatre
410 West 42nd Street

The ridiculously overwrought Blood from a Stone plays like a parody of dysfunctional family melodramas like Tracey Letts’ recent Tony-winning August: Osage County. First-time playwright Tommy Nohilly’s dissection of a working-class Connecticut clan never feels genuine; it instead seems contrived for maximum visceral effect like some trashy horror movie.

The play begins as oldest son Travis returns home from Manhattan to visit his family one last time before leaving to go out west and start over again. However, once there, he realizes he’s being sucked back into the angst-ridden conflicts that continue to rule the family.

Nohilly stacks the deck right from the start by loading down everyone with so much baggage that there’s little room for anything approaching a real character onstage. The parents—hard-headed father Bill and foul-mouthed mother Margaret—are nastily at each other’s throats from the get-go. Margaret in particular never tires of tossing bilious insults at her husband, so much so that it becomes quite the suspension of disbelief to accept that he’s never left—or murdered—her in the intervening years.

Travis also fools around with his former girlfriend Yvette, who now conveniently lives next door to his parents with her husband and kids. Sister Sarah is pregnant again and asks older brother Travis to be the child’s godfather, a responsibility he definitely wants to avoid. Finally, youngest brother Matt is in the midst of leaving his wife and kids to marry another woman.

This soap opera would be more acceptable stage fare if Nohilly’s novice’s hand didn’t show itself so often. Instead of moving toward his telegraphed explosive climax through a steady accumulation of even more damnable behavior, the playwright instead simply drops every foible into our laps, as well as onto their heads (several times, kitchen ceiling tiles—ruined by a hole in the roof—fall down and rain water on Travis).

Nohilly’s self-conscious dialogue is also a culprit, although it does give the actors a chance to chew the scenery when they go on and on about very little. (Apparently, the play has been heavily cut, which explains the abrupt and anti-climactic final moments.)

Scott Elliott directs as persuasively as possible, and his cast, led by Ethan Hawke’s Travis, perhaps too vividly embodies these people. It’s too bad that Ann Dowd’s Margaret begins at such a shriekingly elevated level of obnoxiousness: she is unable to make the quieter exchanges—and there are a few, mercifully—entirely believable.

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