Reviewed by Jara Jones
Before we begin, do me a favor right now. Go to https://www.youcaring.com/thisisfamilyoneactplays-1130606 and give what you can to support producers Narci Regina and Samantha Lynn Parry for making the brave step to bring their stories and their artistic vision from Philadelphia to NYC. I know full well their challenge as acting students competing to have their talents and voices seen amidst a sea of wealthier, more insular college and conservatory showcases. I commend them for their ambition and dedication; like any work-in-progress, there are shining, pure moments and rough edges.
In our frightened world, what exists, what remains of the concept of “family”? Through a series of one-acts, the students of Playhouse West seek to upend and re-examine familial constructs. As I Am presents a story of a daughter coming out to her deeply religious mother. Pickle Jar focuses on an interracial marriage and their career struggles. Home deals with the fate of two young women in foster care, and their burning desire to re-connect with their alcoholic mother. Lastly, Brothers and Sisters and Husbands and Wives highlights estrangement between siblings brought on by their parent’s unexpected divorce.
The scripts, mostly having been written, directed, and featuring the actors themselves, suffer from the constant attention of a single artist’s narrow range of vision. There’s two things you shouldn’t do; you should never cut your own hair, and you shouldn’t direct yourself (and you should never direct yourself in something you’ve written and in which you act). For theatre to have depth and precision, an outside eye, a creative, neutral director is mandatory. Otherwise, you end up with broad work, where the exploration of telegraphing feeling within the performer comes before the primary goal of an artist: storytelling.
My two favorite actors in the production, Carly Mazzochetti and Carrie Brennan, truly understood the gentle honesty and simplicity required to make a black box theatre performance resonate. They’re both aided by the fact that their characters in each scene reacted to the main conflict thrust upon them, rather than incited the confrontation. Mazzochetti endows her role with a wry and weary grace, and isn’t afraid to let silence inform her choices. Brennan, as the sister in Brothers and Sisters and Husbands and Wives, is tasked with portraying a role with a 15-year time change, and manages to make her youthful teenager and despondent adult both realized and engaging.
This is Family is a deeply flawed production with so much potential. There’s ample amount of talent onstage which could benefit from a structured hand. Choosing collaboration and exploration over singular voices as well as employing the stewardship of a unified director would take these artists and raise them to the level of compelling theatre that I know they can create.
This Is Family runs until May 19th at The Royal Theater at the Producers Club (358 West 44th St.) http://www.playhousewest.com/this-is-family-5-one-act-plays.html