You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


This conversation seems to want to go somewhere, and I'm just not sure where that place is," says a character, all too aptly, in Amy Freed's "Freedomland," making its world premiere at South Coast Repertory. A talky, laboriously written play about an impromptu family reunion run amok, "Freedomland" reveals a talented but undisciplined writer with bleak comic instincts who hasn't found her sea legs yet.

Cast: Heather Ehlers (Sig), Annie LaRussa (Polly), Simon Billig (Seth), Peter Michael Goetz (Noah), Karen Kondazian (Claude), Maury Ginsberg (Titus), Erin J. O'Brien (Lori).

This conversation seems to want to go somewhere, and I’m just not sure where that place is,” says a character, all too aptly, in Amy Freed’s “Freedomland,” making its world premiere at South Coast Repertory. A talky, laboriously written play about an impromptu family reunion run amok, “Freedomland” reveals a talented but undisciplined writer with bleak comic instincts who hasn’t found her sea legs yet.

The Underfingers are a clan of eccentrics, but unlike families of stage madcaps penned by everyone from Noel Coward to Nicky Silver, Freed hasn’t managed — or perhaps even attempted — to make them endearing. Patriarch Noah (Peter Michael Goetz) is a retired professor of comparative religion, living in what looks like Joseph Cornell’s garage (courtesy of designer Michael C. Smith), whose conversation is almost exclusively pontification of a vaguely apocalyptic and mystical bent.

He barely registers the arrival of his troubled daughter Polly (Annie LaRussa), who’s climbed highest on the family’s low-self-esteem totem pole. She’s eternally working on a dissertation about the women of the “Iliad,” and fleeing the ego-crushing influence of sister Sig (Heather Ehlers), a trendy painter. Addled New Age nurturer Claude (Karen Kondazian), Noah’s latest companion, welcomes her rather more warmly, suggesting they take a bath together.

Polly’s not the only visitor to the family nest for long, as homesteading anti-civilization brother Seth (Simon Billig) soon arrives with his white-trashy girlfriend, Lori (Erin J. O’Brien), followed in short order by the advent of Sig, seeking (inexplicably) to bring Polly back into her orbit.

Sig has brought along art-magazine scribe Titus (Maury Ginsberg), the sane-outsider figure who doesn’t play as much of a role as sane-outsider figures generally do in such plays.

Absent, of course, is Mama, and it’s toward the painful recollection of her early exit from the family hearth, and the psychic wounds it opened in each of the kids, that the play inevitably, and agonizingly, progresses.

Much pain is aired (“I still have a hole in me,” Polly bleats of her mother’s desertion; “You didn’t teach me what I needed!” Seth rails at Noah); many wisecracks are exchanged, mostly nasty (“No one wants to hear about your timid little attempts at self-mutilation,” Sig snaps when Polly recalls suicidal tendencies. “Just slash or get off the pot”).

Polly and Claude make moves, pathetic and predatory, respectively, on the hapless Titus. The angry Seth spars with his father, kills a deer and blows up a building. Sig fumes and spews out barbs that thinly mask her own abandonment issues. And Noah pontificates like there’s no tomorrow. On aging, on civilization, on God, on the fact that there’s no tomorrow. (With all the ill feeling floating around the stage, it’s a wonder, and an irritation, that no one ever tells him to shut the hell up.)

The play ends on a banal note, with the family recalling a happy visit to the amusement park of the title, pivotally remembered as the day just before Mother left and the family fell violently from paradise to Earth and its attendant miseries.

Freed clearly has a lot on her mind — you don’t name a character Noah and have him interested in animal husbandry for nothing — but it never adds up to much. The issues she tackles are too many, too diffuse and too unfocused (why Titus’ Oedipal breakdown? There’s enough angst to deal with in the family proper).

More significantly for a play about a fractured family, there’s scarcely a passage that has an emotional — or even everyday — truth to it (an exception is Polly’s sad, comic speech about the comforts of AA to the non-alcoholic). It all comes off as stage antics suffused with the latest disorders and disfunctions.

Performances under David Emmes’ broad-tending direction are of the neuroses-as-vaudeville kind, which accents the too-carefully shaped dialogue.

Freed hasn’t yet learned how to lose her voice in her characters’ — Kondazian comes off best, perhaps because she’s at least pleasant, and her dialogue doesn’t smack quite so loudly of the playwright’s pen.

Ehlers, LaRussa and Billig as the kids each hit their characters’ primary trait (bitchy, whiny, angry, in that order) with precision, and Goetz delivers Noah’s arkfuls of dialogue with polish.


South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif.; 507 seats; $43 top

Production: A South Coast Repertory presentation of a play in two acts by Amy Freed. Directed by David Emmes.

Creative: Set, Michael C. Smith; costumes, Susan Denison Geller; lighting, Peter Maradudin; sound, B.C. Keller; production manager, Michael Mora; stage manager, Scott Harrison. Producing artistic director, Emmes; artistic director, Martin Benson. Opened, reviewed Oct. 18, 1997. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Heather Ehlers (Sig), Annie LaRussa (Polly), Simon Billig (Seth), Peter Michael Goetz (Noah), Karen Kondazian (Claude), Maury Ginsberg (Titus), Erin J. O'Brien (Lori).

More Legit

  • Stephanie Dalton City National Bank

    Why City National Handles Financing for Half the Shows on Broadway

    Seen a Broadway show lately? If the answer is yes, then there’s a pretty good chance that Stephanie Dalton and her team at City National Bank have played a role in the financial life of the production. That can mean anything from managing the cash that a show takes in at the box office to [...]

  • Broadway Theater Placeholder

    The Great Green Way: Inside Broadway's Economic Boom

    Here’s an old Broadway story, probably apocryphal, but with the ring of truth: A worried producer checks in on his ticket sales to see how his show is doing. “We had a terrible night, boss,” the treasurer tells him. “We did one penny.” The producer sulks through Shubert Alley and runs into a rival. “How’s [...]

  • SpotCo and Tanna Inc. Announce Partnership

    SpotCo and Tanna Inc. Announce Partnership for Broadway Ticket Sales and More

    Marketing and branding agency SpotCo and independent analytics firm Tanna Inc. have teamed up to offer their expertise in attempts to optimize ticket sales, revenue, and inventory management for Broadway shows, Variety has learned. Clients will have access to a tailored, personal tool-belt from SpotCo’s co-managing director Stephen Santore and Tanna Inc. founder and president [...]

  • Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys

    Listen: Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys of Broadway

    For anyone who doubts that being a Broadway actor can be grueling, let Bryan Cranston set you straight. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a cumulative effect of fatigue that happens on the Broadway schedule that no amount of sleep the night before is going to wash away,” the Emmy and Tony-winning actor [...]

  • Jeff Daniels Variety Broadway to Kill

    How 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Beat the Odds to Deliver a Broadway Smash

    Jeff Daniels slumps into a chair in the Shubert Theatre, grasping an oversize Starbucks and looking bone-crushingly exhausted. His eyelids are heavy, and he seems like a man in desperate need of rest. It’s easy to understand why. It’s late March, and Daniels has just given his 100th Broadway performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town attorney [...]

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content