LCT3, Lincoln Center’s workshop lab for incubating new theatrical talent, opens its fourth season with the kind of show that workshops are made for — a promising play that isn’t quite there yet. Julia Brownell’s “All-American” is an off-beat domestic drama about a family whose athletic daughter is recruited by a top-ranked high-school football team to be their star quarterback. Scribe writes pithy, vivid scenes that expose the household tensions with amusing efficiency, but her pictorial style proves too flimsy to support the heavy emotions when the family actually starts to disintegrate.
Brownell, who writes funny stuff for the HBO series “Hung,” appreciates the comic aspects of the Slattery family’s domestic discord when they relocate from Pasadena to Palo Alto so 17-year-old Katie (Meredith Forlenza, playing it nice and natural) can play football.
Mike, the distant dad, was a big NFL star back in the day, and C.J. Wilson plays him with that slightly mad intensity of a has-been hero who sees a way of getting back in the game. But in his obsession with managing Katie’s career, he blows off the rest of the family.
The tug-of-wills between Mike and Katie, who isn’t at all sure that she wants to give up her life for football, is the presumed dramatic conflict. But because father and daughter are drawn so simplistically (and deprived of a Big Scene in which they can fight out their differences), they’re the least interesting characters in the play.
Helmer Evan Cabnet (“Dream of the Burning Boy”) does his level best to keep us from noticing that the play is underwritten — not by throwing up distracting scenic effects (Lee Savage’s stylized set of a football field is uncluttered and built for speed), but by keeping up a brisk pace for the episodic play’s many blackout scenes.
Rebecca Creskoff (“Hung”) makes fine sport of peppy Beth Slattery, who somehow manages to be both a disengaged mother and a bad influence on her kids. “Why do you have to have a job?” is her neglected son’s complaint about the real-estate job that has Beth dressing like a hooker and staying out until all hours. “I liked it better when you didn’t work and there were things like dinners and rides home from school.”
As Aaron, Katie’s twin and the most overlooked person in the household, Harry Zittel (“A Boy’s Life”) delivers that line with the slow-burn comic timing of a seasoned pro, and all of his lines with keen intelligence and droll wit.
As the smartest (and least athletic) member of this household of jocks and cheerleaders, Aaron was born to be the family oddball. How nice for Zittel that Brownell has written Aaron such clever lines for this talented young thesp to play with.
And how good of her to give this endearing kid a girlfriend: You can practically hear the click when these two nonconformists meet cute in the locker room after cutting the mandatory pep rally in the gym. Jessica Wegener Shay’s eccentric outfits make Natasha Gordon (Sarah Steele) look like fun before she even opens her mouth. But once she does, sassy Steele (“Speech and Debate”) makes sure that Natasha becomes every smart boy’s dreamgirl.
The problem with the play is that Katie doesn’t have a playmate — or some tangible purpose or ambition — to make her rebellion the focus of a full-blown family war; a teammate named Jake (Brock Harris) might have served the purpose, but his character is left undeveloped. Which means that the play ends on an up-in-the-air conflict resolution without having had a proper conflict to resolve. But at 90 lightweight minutes, it could easily handle more playtime.