×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New England

Richard Nelson's "New England" begins with a violent act, and follows it up with two hours of genteel chat. Smoothly written and consistently amusing, the play dances maddeningly around some engaging themes without exploring them deeply enough to ignite any dramatic sparks. Like the displaced Britons who people it, "New England" is literate, smart and something of a bore.

With:
Cast: Michael O'Hagan (Harry Baker, Alfred Baker), Katherine McGrath (Alice Berry), Phil Proctor (Tom Berry), Melinda Peterson (Elizabeth Baker), Benjamin Livingston (Paul Baker), Deirdre O'Connell (Gemma Baker), Lillian Garrett-Groag (Sophie Baker).

Richard Nelson’s “New England” begins with a violent act, and follows it up with two hours of genteel chat. Smoothly written and consistently amusing, the play dances maddeningly around some engaging themes without exploring them deeply enough to ignite any dramatic sparks. Like the displaced Britons who people it, “New England” is literate, smart and something of a bore.

The sudden suicide of music professor Harry Baker (Michael O’Hagan) brings together his immediate family; though thoroughly English, they don’t have to cross the Atlantic to attend the funeral at Harry’s Connecticut farmhouse.

His cool daughter Elizabeth (Melinda Peterson) works in publishing in New York, and is the first to arrive, though her strained politesse doesn’t provide much comfort to the warm-hearted Alice (Katherine McGrath), her father’s live-in girlfriend, also British and a former publishing exec.

Flying in from parts west are Harry’s other daughter, Gemma (Deirdre O’Connell), who lives in

Santa Fe near Harry’s twin brother Alfred (O’Hagan), and Harry’s son Paul (Benjamin Livingston), who — horror of horrors — works as a reader at a Hollywood studio (“That’s a profession in Los Angeles now,” Alfred snipes incredulously).

Paul has brought along his French wife Sophie (Lillian Garrett-Groag), and it’s indicative of the fun the play has at the expense of all things non-English that Sophie, the only non-Anglo onstage, is irredeemably irritating.

The other outsider at this only mildly somber family reunion is Tom Berry (Phil Proctor), Alice’s ex-brother-in-law, a voice coach whom Alice had invited for the weekend, and who arrived just after Harry’s death.

His mortification at discovering that his presence — though Alice very properly welcomed him to stay the weekend despite the tragedy — is resented by the family is one of the play’s few dramatic bumps.

But one could hardly fault him for his obtuseness, since the family doesn’t seem very distraught at Harry’s death, very disturbed by Tom’s presence, or even particularly happy to see one another.

There is some muted resentment of Alice, who discovers that Harry had kept from her that his first wife, the children’s mother, was alive until just a few months previously. Alice takes revenge on the chilly reception she’s accorded by the kids by sleeping with Alfred, which occasions slightly less muted resentment.

The children discuss their father’s vague unhappiness, but there are no great discoveries made, no bringing to a head of long-held sibling conflicts, no sturm und no drang. Mostly, there is chat. At one point someone even threatens to bring out a jigsaw puzzle.

Nothing here rings false: As with many a family reunion, more energy is perhaps expended in avoiding potential confrontations than plumbing any emotional depths.

But this isn’t a dramatically lively setup. The U.S.-born Nelson, an “honorary associate artist” at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where the play premiered, seems most intrigued by the mysterious love-hate relationship between Englishmen and America, but no great discoveries are made on this score either.

The question primarily provides for innumerable vulgar-American stories, and this viewer — not notably jingoistic, I think — began to bridle at the barrage of anecdotes about witless Yank philistines.

The production, as is customary at South Coast Rep, is impeccable. Neil Peter Jampolis’ handsome, expansive set is nicely lit by Jane Reisman (though the village-scape seen through the kitchen window is a little cheesy).

Director David Emmes has brought out some very fine performances, most notably from McGrath, whose confusion of emotions is beautifully detailed; and from O’Connell, who has a soupcon of Sandy Dennis in her style, as the genial, unpretentious Gemma.

Slightly overplaying are Garrett-Groag and Proctor, who provide many of the comic moments, and may have been instructed by Emmes to give a little too much oomph to a play that’s in desperate, though genteel, need of it.

New England

South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa; 507 seats; $38 top

Production: South Coast Repertory presents a play in two acts by Richard Nelson; director , David Emmes.

Creative: Sets, Neil Peter Jampolis; costumes, Ann Bruice Aling; lighting, Jane Reisman; sound, Garth Hemphill; voice consultant, Dudley Knight. Opened, reviewed April 13, 1996; runs through May 12. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast: Cast: Michael O'Hagan (Harry Baker, Alfred Baker), Katherine McGrath (Alice Berry), Phil Proctor (Tom Berry), Melinda Peterson (Elizabeth Baker), Benjamin Livingston (Paul Baker), Deirdre O'Connell (Gemma Baker), Lillian Garrett-Groag (Sophie Baker).

More Legit

  • A Strange Loop review

    Off Broadway Review: 'A Strange Loop'

    “No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings the anxiety-ridden lead character in Michael R. Jackson’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exasperating new musical, “A Strange Loop,” at Playwrights Horizons. The abundantly talented Jackson takes the otherwise tired trope of the young, poor and sensitive artist trying to discover his true self and [...]

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

  • Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic

    Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic Records (EXCLUSIVE)

    Singer-songwriter and actor Anthony Ramos, known for his roles in “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born,” has signed with Republic Records, the company announced today. Ramos will release his forthcoming debut album later this year, with new music expected this summer. Footage from the signing aired on his YouTube series today. “Anthony is a true [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content