You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Legit Review: ‘A Family for All Occasions’

Philip Seymour Hoffman directs a stellar cast in a tonally wobbly dysfunction drama

Jeffrey DeMunn, William Jackson Harper, Justine Lupe, Deirdre O'Connell, Charlie Saxton.

There are two things you can pretty much count on in a LAByrinth production: fine ensemble acting and innovative shows. True to company form, a terrific LAB cast helmed by Philip Seymour Hoffman applies the house’s top-notch performance treatment to “A Family for All Occasions.” But it would be a stretch to characterize Bob Glaudini’s new play as inventive. Unlike “Jack Goes Boating,” a more adventurous play (and subsequent film) from this scribe-helmer duo, the new work is a bit offbeat but presents no serious challenge to the conventions of the traditional dysfunctional family drama.

Taken individually, the members of this miserably unhappy family have a slightly larger-than-life quality that makes them slightly more interesting than your own miserably unhappy family. Which is about the only thing to hold onto, once they start stripping the skin from one another.

Howard, the pathetically ineffectual patriarch played with heartbreaking sensitivity by Jeffrey DeMunn, is a retired electrician who selflessly waits hand and foot on his ungrateful family. What makes Howard endearing, rather than irritating or just plain pitiful, is his touching love of language and his yearning to communicate with someone who reveres words as much as he does.  “I think sometimes I’d like someone to talk to,” he says wistfully.

Howard’s down-to-earth wife, May (the amazing Deirdre O’Connell, giving another definitive perf of a wrung-out working-class woman), is too intellectually grounded, too physically exhausted and too spiritually drained to give a hoot for her husband’s lofty tastes.

Howard’s two grown children (May’s step-kids) are also drawn to type, but in a slightly exaggerated, almost expressionistic style.

Daughter Sue, a self-regarding young woman with a mouth like a sewer, is a total slut and proud of it. As played by Justine Lupe (an actress to watch, in “Frances Ha” among other film and TV projects), Sue is meaner than a junkyard dog, and her palpable contempt for her thin-skinned father is an ugly exercise in cruelty.

In a brave perf by notable newcomer Charlie Saxton, Howard’s insolent teenaged son, Sam, is the monster version of the countless disrespectful sons who make themselves thoroughly disagreeable in family dramas. Although this self-entitled child appears to be a harmless slug, waiting for the world to acknowledge his genius, Sam’s attacks on his father are venomous enough to relocate him to the poisonous snake category of the animal kingdom.

With the appearance of a well-mannered visitor named Oz (the ever-personable William Jackson Harper), we’re in relatively realistic territory again. This sweet young black man has been lured to the house by sexy Sue, who proceeds to seduce him in a very funny (and honestly original) bedroom scene.

But the member of this family from hell that Oz truly bonds with turns out to be Howard, who shares his love of language and way with words. “A friend of Sue’s who reads!” says Howard, unable to contain his happiness and determined to make Oz a member of the family.

Although the events of the play are fairly predictable, that’s not the dramaturgical problem here. It’s the uncertain dramatic style, which staggers from heightened realism to tentative absurdity, leaving characters to fend for themselves in whatever style they happen to land on.

David Meyer’s set design — a folding box-set of fully realized individual spaces — is a marvel of efficiency on the cramped stage of this bandbox theater. But the literal nature of these multiple settings keeps the play grounded in real places in real time, even as the loopy characters beg for a more abstract treatment. Or perhaps just more comic inventiveness.

Legit Review: 'A Family for All Occasions'

Bank Street Theater; 88 seats; $55 top. Opened May 12, 2013. Reviewed May 10. Running time: TWO HOURS, 15 MIN.

Production: A LAByrinth Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Bob Glaudini.

Creative: Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sets, David Meyer; costumes, Gali Noy; lighting, Japhy Weideman; sound, Jill BC DuBoff; production manager, Pamela Salling.  

Cast: Jeffrey DeMunn, William Jackson Harper, Justine Lupe, Deirdre O'Connell, Charlie Saxton.

More Legit

  • 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, [...]

  • Williamstown Theater Festival 2016 season

    Marisa Tomei Starring in Broadway Revival of 'The Rose Tattoo'

    Marisa Tomei will star in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” The Oscar-winning actress will play Serafina, a part previously performed by the likes of Maureen Stapleton and Anna Magnani. It’s also a role that Tomei is familiar with, having starred in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production in 2016. “The Rose Tattoo” [...]

  • White Pearl review

    London Theater Review: 'White Pearl'

    Playwright Anchuli Felicia King dismantles the Asian market in this misfiring satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre. “White Pearl” makes a case that those seeking to make inroads into the Far East, perceiving a new El Dorado, are no better that colonial conquistadors of an earlier age — and entirely unequipped to understand the specifics [...]

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content