Who is Simon Stephens, anyway? Taking cues from his past work – “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” “Harper Regan,” and “Heisenberg” – the British playwright would seem to be someone deeply interested in offbeat dramatic themes like quantum physics, autism, and alternate realities. Judging from “On the Shore of the Wide World,” an older play (2006) currently being staged by the Atlantic Theater Company, the writer also seems to take an interest in old-fashioned domestic drama. But the British family on whom Stephens lavishes such close attention is made up of stock characters, each more boring than the next. Or maybe they’re just being British. Whatever, spending almost two and-a-half hours in their company is heavy going. Better bring snacks.
Introductions first: Peter Holmes (C.J. Wilson) and his wife, Alice (Mary McCann), are stuck in a marriage that has long lost its luster. Their older son, Alex (Ben Rosenfield), is in aching first-love with Sarah Black (Tedra Millan), but is so excruciatingly shy he may never make his move. Although the younger Holmes boy, Christopher (Wesley Zurick), is also in love with Sarah, he’s so hyperactive he may never calm down long enough to make his move, either.
The general air of dissatisfaction and disappointment that hangs over everyone seems to run in the family. Peter’s parents, Charlie (Peter Maloney) and Ellen (Blair Brown) Holmes, have settled down to a quiet life of petty sniping and squabbling – except for those moments of high drama when Charlie seems to be having medical issues. Or not.
The family’s secret hopes and dreams are modest to a fault. Peter would just like someone to appreciate his artistry as an architectural carpenter. Will Susan Reynolds, a pretty, pregnant client played by Amelia Workman, grant his secret wish? (Stay tuned – oh, don’t bother.) Alice would just like to feel like a woman, preferably in the appreciative eyes of a man more observant than her husband. (Will she find one? Stay tuned – or don’t.) The boys would like to get laid. And Sara just wants to have fun.
The problem isn’t their modest dreams; it’s the absence of poetry or passion in their expression of those dreams. Not even Alex, who seems to be the central character in this drama, gets a speech that forces us to sit up and listen. The hard-working actors are not to be blamed for the overwhelming blandness of the production. Director Neil Pepe clearly works well with actors, but the heavy-handed production work (a gigantic set, murky lighting, soporific music) dooms them to their dull characters and uninspired lines.