Playwright/director David Beaird has culled the gothic depths of every Southern-born playwright from Lillian Hellman to Tennessee Williams and beyond in this awe-inspiring creation of the unearthly dysfunctional McClure clan from Bastrop, La. The characters may seem familiar but Beaird’s vision is breathtakingly original. Direct from its critically lauded London premiere, “900 Oneonta” is a rip-roaring, disemboweling guided tour down to the molten core of familial hatred and despair. Thanks to an outstanding ensemble and the playwright’s unerringly facile staging, the production is as hilarious as it is soul-rending.
Set in 1979, the action is centered in the darkly gothic family mansion at 900 Oneonta. Knowing he is expending the last few hours of breath left in his life-scarred body, gleefully vicious 76-year-old family patriarch Dandy (Leland Crooke) is determined to spend his remain-ing mortality skewering his monumentally inept heirs in a brutally direct, apocalyptic day of truth-telling and score-settling before announc-ing who will inherit his $20 million.
Having performed the role in the London production, Crooke’s Dandy is a hateful, laser beam of racism and vulgar misanthropy who is so accurate and wittily discerning in his character assassinations that one wishes he could escape the grim reaper just to keep listening to him talk.
Before his end-of-act-one demise, however, Dandy manages to hatchet-mouth his way through the psyches of his granddaughter Burning Jewel (Missi Pyle), whom he confronts with her womb-ravaging abortion at age 12; his alcoholic, near-demented daughter Persia (Stephanie Nash), making her come to terms in front of the family with the fact that he raped her when she was only a child; and his monumentally ineffectual son-in-law Morely (Kenneth Tigar), whom he sarcastically dismisses as practically not even being in the room.
Dandy is particularly morbid in his tormenting of his weasel-like grandson Gitlo, played to the money-grubbing, hyperactive hilt by Jon Cryer (also from the London production).
Cryer’s Gitlo is reduced to a riotous level of impotent angst when the malevolent Dandy gleeful informs the young man that he is leaving all his money to Gitlo’s wretchedly burned out brother Tiger (Ben Daniels), who is the only member of the family “who inherited his grand-dad’s balls.”
Dandy pushes his jagged knife in further when he informs everyone that the near catatonic Tiger must formally accept his inheritance within one hour of Dandy’s death or all the millions will go to the church.
Despite the loss of the memorably evil Dandy, Beaird charges right along in the second act as family members drag all the remaining family skeletons out in full view in a no-holds-barred battle to get Tiger to accept the money and keep it within the family.
Daniels (another London alumnus) offers a tour de force performance as a cancer-wracked shell of a man whose maniacal manipulation of those around him proves he has indeed inherited his granddad’s dubious persona.
Observing all the family’s efforts is the benign but very interested young Cajun-born priest Father Bourette (John Michael Morgan), who declares that “God will not be the chump today.”
Within the thoroughly excellent ensemble work, a brief but walloping portrayal is turned in by Khadijah Karriem as Tiger’s 19-year-old black prostitute girlfriend Palace, who literally chews up the scenery and everyone around her in her rage against their inferior souls.
Complimenting the furious on-stage action is the marvelously decadent-looking Southern mansion setting of Michael Marlowe, supported by Kate Delcambre’s lighting and Sean Sullivan’s costumes.