The Horvaths are battling urges toward forgiveness and revenge in the disappointing world preem of “Vengeance Is the Lord’s,” Bob Glaudini’s low-down, foul-mouthed new family drama, helmed by Peter DeBois. There’s just not much in the way of conflict for this shady and seedy group of extortionists, loan sharks and those in this lower middle-class home who look the other way.
Glaudini tapped into the seamy or quirky side before in “Jack Goes Boating” and “The View from 151st Street.” But here, the scribe spins his wheels with self-righteous, hypocritical characters who are more inconsistent than complex. Not helping matters are the mostly uneven, inauthentic performances, flat, crude humor and an epic production design (Eugene Lee’s revolving naturalistic house) that suggests grand themes of biblical proportions in a production that delivers them not.
Still, the Old Testament is the focus of many conversations as the family gathers on various holidays. The main source of tension is the upcoming parole hearing for the murderer of the clan’s fourth child. Patriarch Matthew (Larry Pine), who reads the Bible while overseeing his illegal, bloody mini-empire, fills with rage at the prospect that the killer might go free, and suggests retribution. Ditto his colorless tough of a son, Woodrow (Lee Tergesen).
Matthew’s daughter Roanne (a droll and spot-on Katie Kreisler) dodges the Horvaths’ moral choices by preparing family meals, having hot sex with a married cop and keeping the household running.
Someone has to, since Margaret (Roberta Wallach), Matthew’s long-since-divorced wife, is useless around the house, suffering from various knee, hip and arthritic ailments and buzzed from pain killers and booze. (“She’s a pretty good mother, not good at nurturing,” a character says by way of understatement.) But Margaret has found religion in the more humane New Testament, and is considering forgiving the murderer at the parole hearing. She’s backed by her sensitive but spineless adult son Don (Karl Baker Olson), mysteriously in awe of his father.
But this one frail figure of humanity is no match for a house familiar with feral attacks, primal screams and a twisted faith that the mighty, bad and bitching shall inherit the earth.
Performances fail to ignite any fire onstage, with Olson’s Don offering no dramatic challenge and Tergesen merely a bland kingpin-in-waiting; Wallach is simply miscast as Margaret. And Pine sometimes struggles painfully with the dual nature of his identities. “Vengeance” fails to connect, and emerges as a difficult play to absolve.