You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Long Lost’

Donald Margulies gathers a fractured family together for Christmas, the perfect occasion for ripping open old wounds.

Kelly Aucoin, Annie Parisse; Lee Tergesen, Alex Wolff

Scribe Donald Margulies (a Pulitzer Prize winner for “Dinner with Friends”) knows how to write dialogue that remains civilized, but hits hard and below the belt. In the very first scene of this family drama, two estranged brothers greet one another with mutual loathing. Billy, the prodigal bro played by Lee Tergesen (“Oz”) chides his sibling for looking “older” and “balder,” to which taunt David (Kelly Aucoin) replies that Billy seems “smaller.”

The tone of their reunion — staged at Christmastime for maximum awkwardness — goes downhill from there. David, a prosperous money-mover on Wall Street, just wants Billy to leave his office. When the action moves uneasily into David’s elegant apartment, he becomes even more desperate to dislodge his brother from the living room couch.

John Lee Beatty has designed both office and apartment settings with the kind of cool sophistication that takes a master of restraint to pull off. Case in point: it may be the Christmas season, but there’s no showy tree in sight, no tacky ornaments, no clumsily wrapped presents — just a very large and beautifully tasteful green wreath. When David’s wife, Molly, comes on the scene in the always welcome person of Annie Parisse, that sophisticated vibe extends to Toni-Leslie James’s costume designs.

The change of scenery, executed to handsome effect with hold-your-breath efficiency, does nothing to lighten the brothers’ combative mood. Both siblings excel at this tame game of fraternal warfare, and under Daniel Sullivan’s helming, both performers wield their verbal weapons with cunning and skill. Had the boys slugged it out in the schoolyard once in a while, their grownup battle might have had an edge of fierceness. But their upper-middle-class upbringing was evidently too civilized for such gutter tactics.

The problem is, Margulies gives us little context for this edgy interplay between brothers. We’re told that Billy received an early release after doing 18 months in prison, and there’s a suggestion that he might have been responsible for his parents’ untimely death. “You’re a chaos machine,” David tells Billy in exasperation for his selfish stunts, one of which (don’t worry –no spoiler here) is so lowdown that it makes his character contemptible, even beyond redemption.

That presents a serious dramaturgical problem, since the character is supposed to be seductive as well as repellent. Tergesen is a bona fide charmer — no argument there — but as applied specifically to Billy, that charm has the creepy edge of some psychopath like Ted Bundy. When David’s college-age son, Jeremy (the very watchable Alex Wolff), expresses some admiration, even affection for his manipulative Uncle Billy, you want to rescue the kid from that narcissistic bad boy.

Credit where credit is due: the characters are well-drawn and well-spoken. But because there’s nothing seriously at stake here, their quarrel shapes up as being largely about language itself. How to make words hurt. How to slap someone in the face with a slur. How to draw blood with a cutting insult. Margulies has a great ear, but lacking credible context, language is only pretty talk.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Long Lost'

Manhattan Theater Club – Stage 1 at City Center; 299 seats; $89 top

Production: A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a play in one act, originally produced as part of the Sullivan Project at the Illinois Theater, University of Illinois, by Donald Margulies.  Opened June 4, 2019. Reviewed May 312. Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Creative: Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Sets, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Toni-Leslie James; lighting, Kenneth Posner; original music & sound, Daniel Kluger; production stage manager, Amanda Kosack.

Cast: Kelly Aucoin, Annie Parisse; Lee Tergesen, Alex Wolff

More Legit

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

  • West End celling collapse

    Ceiling Collapse at 'Death of a Salesman' Leads to Theater Closure, Boycott Threats

    The West End revival of “Death of a Salesman” has moved into a temporary space after parts of the ceiling of Piccadilly Theatre collapsed during a Wednesday night performance. Five audience members sustained minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. The theater will remain closed for the rest of the week. In the meantime, [...]

  • Tina review

    Broadway Review: 'Tina'

    “Now, that’s what I call a Broadway show!” That’s what the stranger sitting next to me at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater yelled into my ear at the roof-raising finale of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” I’d say he nailed it. Call “Tina” a jukebox musical or a bio-musical or anything you want to call it, but [...]

  • Cyrano review Peter Dinklage

    Off Broadway Review: 'Cyrano' Starring Peter Dinklage

    It’s pride and not panache that drives this overly spare and gloomy musical adaptation of that classic tale of unrequited love and honor, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Despite a mesmerizing performance by Peter Dinklage, hot off “Game of Thrones,” and a haunting score by members of the band The National, this “Cyrano” is so reductive — [...]

  • Armie Hammer

    Armie Hammer, Jessie Mueller to Star in Broadway Production of Tracy Letts' 'The Minutes'

    Armie Hammer and Jessie Mueller will lead the cast of “The Minutes,” the Broadway production of a new play by Tracy Letts. The play seems tailor-made for these politically polarized times. It dissects a particularly contentious city council meeting, one in which the hypocrisy, greed, and ambition of various community members bubbles up to the [...]

  • Lightning Thief Broadway musical

    Listen: How 'The Lightning Thief' Creators Aim to Diversify Broadway

    “The Lightning Thief” doesn’t look like most Broadway musicals. And according to its creators, that’s a good thing. Listen to this week’s podcast below: After all, the musical based on Rick Riordan’s hit series of YA novels can count itself as one of a number of new shows (“Slave Play,” “Be More Chill”) that are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content