Scripter Mark Kemble has distilled his memories of his retarded sister into a flawed but emotion-searing sojourn through the tribulations of a monumentally dysfunctional Irish-American family in New England.
Scripter Mark Kemble has distilled his memories of his retarded sister into a flawed but emotion-searing sojourn through the tribulations of a monumentally dysfunctional Irish-American family in New England. Kemble thrusts the burden of holding the ripped shreds of this family together into the weary but rigid hands of family matriarch Elaine Kendall, performed with heart-rending intensity by Lisa Richards. Helmer Salome Jens impressively guides an excellent ensemble through the chaos swirling around Elaine, realistically depicting the needs and deeds that afflict this woman’s daily life.The weakness of Kemble’s play is its overdependence on Elaine to solve all the family’s problems and command the evolution of the thematic throughline right to the end. No one can move without her, and, therefore, the dramatic choices become overly predictable. Eldest son Kent (Grant Sullivan) is drug-addled from injuries suffered while serving in Desert Storm and is depicted either as comatose on his bed or screaming for pain pills. Twentysomething daughter Phoebe (Iris Gilad), retarded since birth, is physically unrestrainable when she gets upset, which is almost constantly. Underachieving younger son Todd (Jeff Cole) is a municipal bus driver, who was emotionally crushed by the unrelenting disapproval of his father, Ed (Stephen Mendillo). And, Ed’s idea of coping with the family’s problems is to retreat to his basement workshop. After Phoebe is expelled from a funded social welfare work program because of her infatuation with a fellow worker — developmentally handicapped but physically imposing Willie Crum (Laurence Cohen) — Ed and Todd are outraged that Willie is “fingering” Phoebe. Elaine, however, recognizes the true worth of having Willie in Phoebe’s life. The untimely death of a family member sets off a cathartic series of events that brings some level of resolution to conflicts within the Kendall family. The creaky plot device is welcome because it finally allows the individual family members to exhibit some human attributes other than unmitigated self-absorbed need. Within an ensemble of excellent portrayals, Mendillo’s Ed stands out as an embittered Vietnam vet who is heartbroken because of what one son has become and what the other will never be. Also noteworthy is Gilad’s unbridled commitment to inhabiting Phoebe’s damaged psyche. Kudos to the production designs of James Eric and Victoria Bellocq (sets), Leeann Johnson (costumes), J. Kent Inasy (lighting) and Mark Levin (sound) for making tangible the claustrophobic physical environment of the Kendall family of Cranston, R.I.