You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

L.A. Theater Review: ‘The Country House’ Starring Blythe Danner

This Broadway-bound riff on Chekhov proves diverting thanks to the expert work of an ensemble led by Blythe Danner, but Donald Margulies play ultimately fails to take flight.

Blythe Danner, Eric Lange, Scott Foley, David Rasche, Emily Swallow, Sarah Steele.

In Donald Margulies’ Geffen premiere “The Country House,” genuine legend Blythe Danner effortlessly embodies fictional legend Anna Patterson, doyenne of a handsome summer home in that bastion of A-list summer theater, Williamstown, Mass., where Danner has often worked. A first-rate ensemble engages in witty banter, expertly marshalled by helmer Daniel Sullivan. Yet diverting as it is, Margulies’ self-acknowledged riff on Chekhovian characters and themes — in a production bound for Broadway later this year — fails to take flight on Chekhov’s terms or any other. It just sort of sits there, patchworky, little at stake.

The quarreling mother and son of “The Seagull” are evoked here, along with snatches of traits and incidents from that play, “The Cherry Orchard” and “Uncle Vanya.” Matching up all the references would be a fun party game. But a bucolic bouillabaisse of familiar types does not automatically a Chekhovian event make, even given such an occasion for melancholy and rue as a memorial for the family’s shining star Kathy, dead of cancer a year ago at age 41.

In Chekhov’s world, self-absorbed people bemoan their fate and get into trouble with too much time on their hands. Yet “The Country House” is abuzz with activity and purpose. Anna’s learning lines for Shaw’s Mrs. Warren, while houseguest, TV megastar and catnip-to-all-ladies Michael Astor (Scott Foley) is about to start rehearsing “The Guardsman.”

Kathy’s widower, world-famous helmer Walter (David Rasche), arrives from LA with dazzling new flame Nell (Emily Swallow) as he preps installment IV of a multibillion-dollar tentpole franchise. Resenting dad’s g.f. is daughter Susie (Sarah Steele), clad in black and snapping at everyone. But she’s an ambitious Yalie, no idler.

This remarkably well-adjusted (given their Chekhovian forebears) quintet contrasts with Elliot (Eric Lange), brother to Kathy, son to Anna and annoyance to everybody. This unkempt layabout in ratty T and soiled sweats is an analog to “Sea Gull” character Konstantin, a jealous underachiever with mommy issues whose failed acting career has prompted a late entry into playwrighting. As in the Chekhov play, his maiden effort is read aloud with predictably indignant results.

Lange’s strenuous efforts can’t bring pathos or layers to this lout. Konstantin’s youthful complaints of marginalization and neglect are downright unseemly coming from a balding, middle-aged whiner. Given no compelling debating points to make, Elliot’s just a punching bag whose number everyone has: “You’re not interesting,” Mom admits. “You’re out of control,” avers Walter. Even Elliot knows it: “For years I was the only nobody in the room.”

When Elliot’s not sucking all the air out of that room, Margulies is taking pains to suppress conflicts and lower the temperature. You’d expect Walter or Michael to be torn about their success, or Anna to dread aging, but all shoulder their burdens with equanimity and few regrets. Anna’s desire, confessed to Michael at the eleventh hour, is barely hinted at earlier. A cliffhanger late-night tryst, witnessed by all, is virtually forgotten after intermission.

As for the late Kathy, don’t expect the “magnificent” lady with “translucent skin,” “beautiful” and “a tremendous capacity for happiness” to be subject to late-inning reconsideration. This paragon proves a device to prompt nostalgia and a banal denouement, never for a moment coming to life.

The company bites into Margulies’ thin gruel as if it were prime filet. Foley and Swallow are particular standouts in their conviction and charisma. Sweeping Rita Ryack’s elegant scarves and bunting in her wake, Danner is the perfect grande dame.

But all must feel the same frustration we do in the ramping down of tension, the perfunctory confrontations, the minimal opportunities to present characters as growing or changing or just plain cutting loose.

How odd that an author who so trenchantly tussled with a much more fraught topic – high-risk photojournalism – in “Time Stands Still,” should seem so disengaged with a giddy environment much closer to home, the theater community.

L.A. Theater Review: 'The Country House' Starring Blythe Danner

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles. 508 seats; $77 top. Opened, reviewed June 11, 2014. Runs through July 13. Running time: TWO HOURS, 35 MIN.

Production: A Geffen Playhouse presentation, by special arrangement with Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director, Barry Grove, executive producer, of a play in two acts by Donald Margulies.

Creative: Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Sets, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Rita Ryack; lighting, Peter Kaczorowski; sound design, Jon Gottlieb; composer, Peter Golub; production stage manager, Young Ji.

Cast: Blythe Danner, Eric Lange, Scott Foley, David Rasche, Emily Swallow, Sarah Steele.

More Legit

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

  • Hadestown Broadway

    'Hadestown': Inside the Musical's 12-Year Odyssey to Broadway

    “Hadestown’s” 12-year journey to Broadway was an odyssey in its own right.  Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s buzzy musical, a folk-operatic retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician who ventures to the underworld to rescue his fiancée, Eurydice, was in development for more than a decade before arriving on the New York stage. The show [...]

  • Elaine May in The Waverly Gallery

    Playwright Kenneth Lonergan on the Genius of His 'Waverly Gallery' Star Elaine May

    When Elaine May agreed to be in my play, “The Waverly Gallery,” naturally I was ecstatic. I had admired her as a director, writer, actor and sketch comedian since high school, when my friend Patsy Broderick made me listen to the album “Nichols and May Examine Doctors.” I didn’t know then that I had already seen Elaine’s [...]

  • Lisbeth R Barron Investment Banker

    Investment Banker Lisbeth R. Barron on How She Became a Broadway Deal Specialist

    If you want to get a deal done on Broadway, call Lisbeth R. Barron. Barron is a veteran investment banker who launched her own shingle, Barron Intl. Group, in 2015. She has brokered a slew of deals throughout her career — which has included stops at S.G. Warburg and Bear Stearns — involving companies and [...]

  • The Lion King Frozen Disney on

    Disney Theatrical Celebrates 25 Years on Broadway

    The Disney brand is known worldwide for its family-friendly entertainment with a flair for magic, music and spectacle, but when its adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” hit Broadway in 1994, success wasn’t guaranteed. Variety’s positive review by Jeremy Gerard noted, “It will almost certainly be met with varying levels of derision by Broadway traditionalists.” [...]

  • The Prom Broadway

    'The Prom': How the Little Show That Could Found Its Way to the Tonys Dance

    Does a Broadway musical still count as an underdog if it’s got über-producer Ryan Murphy in its corner? It does if it’s “The Prom,” the labor of love from a team of Broadway veterans that’s carving out a place for itself as an original story on a street full of familiar titles and well-known brands. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content