Playwright Sybille Pearson peeks in on an eventful weekend in the life of three generations of family headed by Walter (Joseph Wiseman), a German Jew who was fortunate enough to flee the country before World War II. Developed in the Taper Lab ’90 New Work Festival, property shows skillful writing, socko acting and wit in unexpected places. Small wonder that Taper’s artistic director, Gordon Davidson, placed himself at the helm for world premiere of “Unfinished Stories.”
Yves (Hal Linden), is Walter’s Paris-born son, an actor who’s alienated not only from his father, but his ex-wife Gaby (Fionnula Flanagan) and their son, Daniel (Christopher Collet). A New York City cabbie and aspiring actor himself, Daniel forms an intellectual and emotional bond with his aging but still sharp grandfather.
Gaby’s a grown-up child of the ’60s who still enjoys her Otis Redding records and protesting society’s wrongs. Though a bit older than she, Yves is not above swinging his arm in an air guitar run through of the Who’s “Going Mobile.” A musical-comedy actor (talk about typecasting) who seems perpetually marooned playing Spanish noblemen, Yves gets to dream a bit of “The Impossible Dream,” as well.
All of the cast members get to pair off in various combinations for their moments in the spotlight during two-hour show. Collet is a real find with assured delivery; pros Linden and Flanagan perform up to expectations; and it’s no slight to any of their abilities to say that veteran Wiseman practically walks away with the show the whole time he’s on stage, even when supposedly asleep.
By closing curtain, family is considerably closer than at show’s beginning, though not without the telegraphed tragedy. A strong subtext that some viewers might find particularly timely deals with the Nazi regime’s purging of Germany’s intellectual elite.
Playwright Pearson may be best-known as Tony-nominated librettist of the 1983 Richard Maltby Jr.-David Shire B’way tuner “Baby.” Her dialogue rings true, and the musical references here are appropriate — however unexpected — forming an amusing counterpoint to the proceedings for anyone who can keep up with them.
Tech credits are fine; set by Peter Wexler is a wow, even though huge scale of the apartment in which all action takes place tends to somewhat dwarf the drama — intensity would increase in a smaller-scale production.