Hell is spending a weekend with the three irritating Stockton sisters who strut and fret in Melissa Ross’s busy but fruitless family drama, “Of Good Stock.” Director (and Manhattan Theater Club artistic director) Lynne Meadow’s production is smartly cast — Jennifer Mudge, Heather Lind, and Alicia Silverstone play the abrasive siblings — and easy on the eye, thanks to Santo Loquasto’s multifaceted set of a beautifully lived-in summer cottage on Cape Cod. But everyone in this unpleasant family of narcissists is consumed with herself, and their histrionic posturing is exhausting.
The eldest sister, Jess (played with grace and gravitas by Mudge) is dying of cancer, so let’s cut her some slack. Even as she fusses over preparations for a houseful of weekend guests, Jess is mainly concentrating on making it to the stroke of midnight, when she will turn 41 and officially outlive her mother, who also died young of cancer.
To celebrate this milestone, Jess has invited her two younger sisters and their significant others to the charming cottage where she and her too-good-to-be-true husband Fred (Kelly AuCoin, so sympathetic he actually improves on Mr. Perfect) spend their summers. This family reunion may be the last time the three sisters, daughters of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who died as recklessly as he lived, will be together, but you’d never know it from the giddy behavior of Jess’s narcissistic sibs.
Ross takes care (and considerable stage time) to establish the solidity of Jess and Fred’s loving marriage. They affectionately tease one another, for example, when Jess brags about the “artisinal pickles” she bought at the Brooklyn Flea, or Fred comes downstairs in hideous 1980’s plaid pants.
Fred is a food authority who writes “passionately” about the minutiae of what people eat, but is confounded by the whimsical eating habits of his wife’s flaky sisters. So it’s sort of amusing to watch them twisting themselves into knots trying to plan menus for the weekend. The give-and-take between Mudge and AuCoin is natural and easy and their scenes go well.
But once the sisters and their chosen ones arrive, the grownups are kicked to the curb and these silly girls rule.
Lind (“Turn,” “Boardwalk Empire”), who made a splashy Broadway debut opposite Al Pacino in “The Merchant of Venice,” revels in the role of Celia, at 31 the youngest and wittiest sister, who fancies herself a hippie. In her latest escapade, she went to Missoula, Mont., on a Habitat for Humanity trip, and brought back a young backwoodsman named Hunter (Nate Miller) whom she presents as her fiance.
Amy (Silverstone, circling the planet but too hyper to land), the sister who held a wedding for her cat, is planning a wedding of her own. Known as “Bridezilla Barbie” behind her back, Amy is so emotionally greedy she whines to have whatever her siblings have — even if she doesn’t want it.
“If you two weren’t so irritating,” Celia says of Amy and her prepster fiance, Josh (Greg Keller, who clearly sympathizes with this poor guy), “you’d be adorable.” This is a line you really do not want to surface in a play with truly irritating characters who think they are, indeed, adorable.
The family idiom seems to be “affectionate” mockery. Celia can tease Jess about her embrace of all things artisanal. (“Brooklyn wants to be Portland so bad!”) And Amy can draw blood by making fun of Celia’s hick boyfriend. But their laughter has teeth, and the cruelty of it is breathtaking. And while this kind of putdown humor is sharp, it’s not smart, coming as it does from narrow-minded and totally self-absorbed narcissists. Even the “safe” table talk is shallow.
Individually, and eventually collectively, the sisters have their meltdowns. None are very revealing or even interesting, and the grand finale, when they get roaring drunk and finally address what’s on their minds but have been scrupulously avoiding — namely, Jess’s imminent death — is idiotic.