×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Beggars in the House of Plenty

Unlike his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Doubt" and his Oscar-winning "Moonstruck," playwright John Patrick Shanley's "Beggars" doesn't have clean, linear clarity. It comes at you in non sequiturs, mixes screwball comedy with grim drama, and shifts between reality and illusion. The ingredients don't always work, especially some heavy-handed climactic confrontations.

With:
Johnny - Johnny Clark Ma (Noreen) - Annie Abbott Pop - Eddie Jones Sheila - Kimberly-Rose Wolter Joey - Jeffrey Stubblefield Sister Mary Kate - Amanda Carlin

Unlike his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Doubt” and his Oscar-winning “Moonstruck,” playwright John Patrick Shanley’s “Beggars” doesn’t have clean, linear clarity. It comes at you in non sequiturs, mixes screwball comedy with grim drama, and shifts between reality and illusion. The ingredients don’t always work, especially some heavy-handed climactic confrontations. When they do, it’s because of Shanley’s original, zany wit, an exceptionally fine portrayal by Johnny Clark and excellent acting all around.

Clark is 5-year-old Johnny as the story starts, son of cold Noreen (Annie Abbott) and cruel Pop (Eddie Jones), a butcher who relishes working in a slaughterhouse and arrives onstage in a blood-soaked apron. The apron signals Pop’s violent tendencies, and when Johnny’s older brother Joey (Jeffrey Stubblefield) returns home from Vietnam, Pop excoriates him for not completing high school, emphasizing that he regards Joey’s dropout status as a heinous, inexcusable crime.

Johnny’s sister Sheila (Kimberly-Rose Wolter) is about to be married, waving aside warnings from relative and nun Sister Mary Kate (Amanda Carlin) that marrying a Polish Catholic can only bring grief. Wolter is appealing as she ecstatically contemplates her wedding (“I’m the center of everything!”), and Carlin’s boisterous delivery makes the most of funny lines.

Director Anita Khanzadian succeeds in extracting character nuances from this portion of the story, but the plot dawdles, leaving spectators unsure of what the play is about and where it’s going.

Everything kicks in when Johnny (now a teenager) and Joey have a scene that exposes every facet of their troubled relationship. Johnny admits he can’t stop lying, setting fires and smashing windows, and Joey taunts and terrorizes him, then says, “Johnny, I love you,” a moment that suddenly, unexpectedly, proves deeply moving. Johnny’s answering admission to Joey, “You’re my hero,” carries the same emotional weight, before mutual resentment pries them apart again.

Clark illuminates Johnny’s soul and makes clear, through the quagmire of unresolved conflicts, that Johnny is a survivor. Joey, for all his swagger and cockiness, is the one mortally damaged, and Stubblefield conveys that torment superlatively when he says to Johnny, “You think I’m not going to make it,” and suffers as his father gives Johnny a ring, ignoring Joey’s needs and feelings.

Abbott rises to the occasion when she has a good line. After Johnny’s plea, “Tell me you love me,” she responds, “It won’t sound believable,” a derisive dismissal that has the bruising ring of truth. Otherwise, her mother character is the least interesting, filled with self-involved prattle that pales when compared with the other principals.

As the ruthless, raging butcher-father, Eddie Jones is pure animal, and helmer Khanzadian allows him the lashing leeway he needs. Beefy, brutal, he reduces Joey to “a whipped dog in a corner.” He tells Johnny, “I hit you, the same as him — he fell down,” fully justifying Johnny’s remark, “I’ll never think of you without being shocked by your lovelessness.”

Inevitably, a statement emerges, “We could have loved each other — it was there for all of us,” but this father-son connection is so ugly and unbalanced that a neat psychological wrap-up isn’t convincing, and it’s impossible to accept that Johnny retains any residual affection for this monster.

Most of Shanley’s tart observations avoid such easy sentiment, and what sticks painfully in mind is the wreckage of a family — a destroyed, broken Joey and the sad sight of Johnny facing the audience, knowing even as he reaches manhood that too much damage has been done for him to ever be fully whole.

Beggars in the House of Plenty

Victory Theater Center; 91 seats; $25 top

Production: A VS. Theater Company and Victory Theater Center presentation of a play in two acts by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Anita Khanzadian.

Creative: Sets, John G. Williams; costumes, Gelareh Khalioun; lighting, Carol Doehring; original music and sound, Brian Benison; production stage manager, Carole Ursetti. Opened, reviewed Sept. 10, 2005; runs through Oct. 9. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: Johnny - Johnny Clark Ma (Noreen) - Annie Abbott Pop - Eddie Jones Sheila - Kimberly-Rose Wolter Joey - Jeffrey Stubblefield Sister Mary Kate - Amanda Carlin

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content