×

See one coming-of-age play and you’ve seen ’em all. Well … maybe not. The bookish girl with the growing pains in “The Talls,” Anna Kerrigan’s version of this genre staple, lives in a household of long-limbed strivers being groomed in the competitive sports of high-school athletics and California politics. But while that atypical background (circa 1970s) adds a piquant note to the heroine’s rebelliousness, it doesn’t alter the basic family dynamic, which is as relentlessly dull and self-evident as any other coming-of-age play.

Whatever friends, family and interested parties in the industry might make of early-career productions, they’re a primary teaching tool for neophyte playwrights. So let’s hope that Kerrigan picks up some valuable tips from the professional treatment she’s getting from Second Stage Uptown, which developed her play for its summer festival series.

Maybe she’s learned, for instance, that the dramatic events spinning the plot wheels should ideally take place onstage. While there’s plenty going on in the lives of the Clarke family — dad (Peter Rini) is running for political office; mom (Christa Scott-Reed) goes to pieces when her best friend is killed in a street accident; two of the kids (Lauren Holmes and Michael Oberholtzer) are competing in championship sporting events; and the 17-year-old heroine, Isabelle (Shannon Esper), loses her virginity — but it all happens offstage.

Hopefully, the tyro scribe has also figured out that characters need to interact for drama to happen. (Teenaged siblings punching each other out on the couch don’t count.) And that when one character does get through another’s defenses, something significant should come of it. (After Isabelle’s cold and distant mother breaks down — in a good scene that needs more flesh on its bones — she goes right back to being cold and distant.)

There’s also a lot to be learned from workshop audiences, starting with the fact that we would really like to know what your play is about. Kerrigan made a point of calling her play “The Talls,” and helmer Carolyn Cantor acted on that directive by casting (relatively, not freakishly) tall thesps. But none of the petty squabbles that break out in the family living room (were household furnishings really that bland in the ’70s?) has anything to do with height. Whenever the subject does come up, it’s incidental to the disjointed events that pass for a plot.

Only Isabelle’s height matters at all — not because it troubles her, but to set up the sight gag when she impulsively throws herself at her father’s campaign manager, Russell James (Gerard Canonico), a young man of modest stature.

Canonico (“Spring Awakening”) is a personable actor with a gift for light comedy, and he appreciates the humor of Russell’s shocked delight at finding himself the object of Isabelle’s girlish lust. Although smart, sensitive Isabelle is your standard issue coming-of-age heroine, Esper (“This Is Our Youth”) plays up the verbal dexterity that gives the character a hint of originality.

But what any of this has to do with being tall is anyone’s guess.

The Talls

McGinn/Cazale Theater; 99 seats; $50 top

  • Production: A presentation of the Second Stage Theater Uptown of a play in one act by Anna Kerrigan. Directed by Carolyn Cantor.
  • Crew: Set, Dane Laffrey; costumes, Jenny Mannis; lighting, Japhy Weideman; sound, M.L. Dogg; production stage manager, Winnie Y. Lok. Opened Aug. 15, 2011. Reviewed Aug. 12. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.
  • Cast: Russell James - Gerard Canonico <br> Nicholas Clarke - Timothee Chalamet<br> Isabelle Clarke - Shannon Esper <br> Catherine Clarke - Lauren Holmes<br> Christian Clarke - Michael Oberholtzer <br> Mr. John Clarke - Peter Rini <br> Mrs. Anne Clarke - Christa Scott-Reed