by Lynn Marie Macy · November 28, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #25: Lynn Marie Macy looks at Family Furniture at The Flea
A. R. Gurney who has been writing plays for more than 50 years receives a charming and heart-felt world premiere at The Flea for his latest script Family Furniture. The beauty of the play lies in the script’s simplicity and in the performances of Family Furniture’s stellar cast.
This gentle drama feels like a wisp of memory and a glimpse into a by gone world. It is 1952 and young Nick (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) is home from college at his family’s summer home on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie near Buffalo. At the onset his greatest concern is making enough cash on his summer job to buy a car so he can be alone with his girlfriend Betsy (Molly Nordin). The story takes a turn when his sister Peggy (Ismenia Mendes) and father Russell (Peter Scolari) offer information that brings him to the conclusion that his mother Claire (Carolyn McCormick) is having an affair with a family friend. Nick must come to terms with discovering his parents’ flaws and with the world around him that is anything but clear-cut. In addition, each member of the family has a journey, which leads them to higher levels of intimacy and understanding with one another. Peggy is involved with an Italian American boy much against her father’s traditional WASP worldview. He sends his daughter to Europe in hopes of breaking upthe relationship but instead must contend the unexpected results. Mother and son experience an equally genuine connection that is the centerpiece of the evening. Asking if his father knows about her “indiscretion” Claire responds, “People can know and not know, Nicky. And still get along famously” and Nick slips silently into adulthood understanding that in order to maintain the status quo some things should just not be openly spoken of.
Director Thomas Kail has guided the project with humor, insight and sensitivity. Delivering honest and detailed scene work. He is also to be commended for successfully staging the play in such a challenging space (only one location for all exits and entrances). The pace was leisurely but helped to sustain that lazy summer feel. (This did not always work for the scene changes, which sometimes felt slower than they needed to be).
Kail also assembled an amazing cast. Peter Scolari as Russell the father was an absolute delight. His character might have stepped out from any 1950’s TV family comedy and yet he also delivers a performance with impeccable timing underpinned by genuine depth. Carolyn McCormick as the mother Claire is beautifully understated and true to life. Andrew Keenan-Bolger candidly embodies the sardonically struggling Nick. Ismenia Mendes as Peggy is enchanting in her “intelligent” naïveté and Molly Nordin as the feisty Betsy provides an interesting counterpoint to the others polite acceptance.
Rachel Hauck has designed a set that is suggestive of a grand lake house porch with soaring windows and an expansive wooden floor. The family furniture of the tile is represented by multi sized wooden benches that can creatively break apart and reform into various locations, including a boat for a scene out on the water. “There is always something resonant, maybe even something important about using old family things.” says Claire. Given the importance assigned to these passed down objects, the simple benches may have benefitted from a bit more significance in their aesthetic design. Particularly if an actress says she is measuring a sofa and realistically measures a small wooden bench the script and the action are sometimes at cross-purposes. The costumes by Claudia brown are evocative of the 1950’s and her efforts for Claire are especially beautiful. Lighting by Betsy Adams and Sound by Bart Fasbender also stylistically underscore the period and emotional ethos of the play.
The Flea’s Family Furniture is humorous, engaging and thought provoking and would be a great destination between the holidays. I can easily imagine the play will get even better as the company settles in to a successful run.