by Teddy Nicholas · May 2, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #68: Teddy Nicholas looks at Family Play (1979 To Present) at the New Ohio Theatre
As a member of the human race, I have found myself on many occasion staring up slack-jawed at a starry night sky wondering about the great mysteries of life. I stare and stare at the evidence of things greater than myself, the seemingly infinite universe reflected in the vastness above, and wonder, "Who am I? What am I doing here? Why?" There but for the grace of whatever go I, seemingly alone and yet surrounded by hundreds upon thousands upon millions and billions of other human beings who seem to be completely different and yet essentially the same--atomically and philosophically.
More than once during Family Play (1979 to present) by CollaborationTown, the nameless characters gaze upon the sky and comment on the cosmos with as much questioning as I do, or anyone for that matter. These characters--and there are many--are in constant flux, morphing from childhood to adulthood, innocence to betrayal, life and death. As performed by a talented cast of six (Eboni Booth, Jorge Cordova, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Mark Junek, Boo Killebrew and Therese Plaehn), they circle constantly like galaxies around a circular raised platform, rising up into brief scenes that show us, well, as much of everything that encompasses an American life as possible, as experienced by 80's children. If I may quote another play that deals with the very nature of our being, Our Town, "This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying."
Indeed, like Wilder, playwrights Jordan Seavey, O'Donnel and Killebrew, along with co-creator TJ Witham, are presenting a portrait of humanity in as much a universal tapestry as is possible: awkward dinner-table scenes, ugly fights between tired parents, the wonderful-horrible feeling of falling in (and out) of love, sex, marriage, and, of course, death of friends and family. As we evolve forward through time, so do the experiences and lifestyles which Family Play addresses: gender identity, sex-positiveness, gay marriage, smartphones. The dialogue between the past generation and the future generation is constant, as is the shifting of identities between the performers and their characters. One moment a performer is bitterly ranting as an aging, frustrated father, the next that same performer has morphed into a young gay man trying to pick up another gay man. Or a young woman who is complaining to her lover about uncomfortable underwear transforms into an aging mother with Alzheimer's watching The Price is Right.
Director Lee Sunday Evans has given the play room to breathe and stretch, allowing moments of humor to gently crackle, then slamming it up against a moment of heavy poignancy. The traverse staging forces the audience to face one another; a sea of faces becoming the backdrop for the small vignettes of life. Family Play is a must-see.