Timothy Mason (“In A Northern Landscape”) has once again mined that great fountainhead of human affliction, the American family, for this dramatic scrapbook of angst and acrimony. Presented as four episodes (spanning 13 years) in the life and times of one monumentally dysfunctional Midwestern clan, Mason’s insightful but occasionally static text is not only enhanced it is often surpassed by an outstanding five-person ensemble under the facile direction of Judy Weldon.
All the action is centered in family matriarch Eunice’s (Ivy Jones) Wisconsin farmhouse kitchen. Utilizing a dry and often caustic wit to cover the years of loveless tyranny inflicted upon her by her husband Gunnar (unseen), Eunice can only look on helplessly as her youngest daughter Faith (Rachel Babcock) flees the household and her oldest, Charity (D.J. Harner), suffers through an abusive marriage with embittered, alcoholic local boy Jerry (Joe Colligan).
In the three scenes that comprise Act I, the playwright covers: the 1950 exodus of Faith to college and Eunice’s comical but painfully hopeless last ditch effort to escape Gunnar; Jerry’s unsuccessful efforts in 1953 to get Gunnar to sell him land to build a drive-in movie theater; and Faith’s shocking 1956 Thanksgiving homecoming announcement that she is going to marry Louis (William Taylor), a Jewish socialist intellectual who does magic tricks, to which the wonderfully understated Eunice replies, “Letting her go to the University of Chicago was a mistake.”
Act II is devoted entirely to a horrifically cathartic New Year’s Eve, 1963, that uncovers the true depths of Eunice’s lifelong despair and the extent of Jerry’s cruelty to Charity.
Aside from the burst of energy that envelops Act II, there is more reminiscence than action in Mason’s text. The all-controlling presence of Gunnar is certainly felt but his misanthropic deeds both past and present have to be related by the women in the family. In lesser hands, this might prove tedious; but Jones, Babcock and Harner transcend the dialogue, creating a captivating triumvirate of scarred souls who are as fascinated as they are repelled by the lives they have been forced to lead.
Colligan captures perfectly the sullen persona of Jerry, an inferior being who has no understanding of anything beyond his own self pity and self loathing. In sharp contrast, Taylor’s Louis is a jovial, good-hearted bear of a man who is driven to a state of revulsion by the extent of Jerry’s inhuman treatment of his family.
Aside from the outstanding performances, one of the main attractions in this production is the beautifully authentic country kitchen setting executed with awe-inspiring detail by Sydney Z. Litwack. He is aided admirably by the evocative lighting of J. Kent Inasy and the period costuming of Weldon and Babcock.