by Mike Poblete · January 23, 2015
Florencia Lozano, Stephanie Hsu, Curran Connor | Gerry Goodstein
Maggie Bofill's Winners, directed by Pamela Berlin and presented by the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Radio Drama Network is a play about a family turned upside down by the recession. Brian, an out of work lawyer, is so desperate for employment that he jumps at the chance replace his son Tommy at the GAP after he is fired for smoking pot. Brian’s wife Mabel, insecure as the new breadwinner, begins an affair with a co-worker. Gabby, their eleven-year-old daughter, reverts to stealing the possessions of her parents indicative of their displaced balance and resulting tensions, such as the phone Mabel uses to text another man and the bow-tie Brian refuses to wear to a work function. Even the dog and cat lament the new family structure with physical intimacy and surreal monologues.
The conflicts and secrets that come to light from the family navigating their new relationships drives the play forward until a fever pitch is reached when Bill, Brian's old friend and new boss after he fired Tommy, and Bill's wife Lilly, who runs the scholarship program Gabby badly needs to get into an elite Catholic school, come over for dinner. Tommy is anxious to reveal his secret: that Bill fired him for witnessing his molestation of a teenage girl, which intertwines with Gabby's attempt to impress Lilly by acting out the true meaning of Christmas in the living room with a plastic scimitar and bloody child's doll (think vengeful Herod). Underscoring the reversal of parent and child, the play ends with the children organizing a healing of sorts with dancing, red capes, goggles and a group photo.
I'm a sucker for family dramas, and though Winners bills itself as a comedy, it does what a good family drama should: explore the meaning of family by challenging assumed roles in a funny and stirring way. The premise of a father reduced to fighting with his son for a job is quirky, but also provides opportunity for poignant moments, such as his being in the home enough to encourage his daughter’s bizarre artistry, and later standing up for his son at great personal cost. The acting is all on point, most obviously with the eerily well impersonated dog (Curran Connor) and cat (Stephanie Hsu). There are missteps: at two and a half hours the play drags, choosing to embellish theatrical and humorous moments (especially with the pets) at the expense of thematic pacing. The children are strangely infallible against their erring parents and Arielle Goldman’s performance as Gabby came across as confused and frightened, leaving me, I assume unintentionally, wondering if there is a more significant problem with the girl other than being a socially awkward introvert.
But the play is overall very satisfying and full of really lovely moments, such as when Mabel and Gabby drive to meet the appraising Lilly: Gabby paradoxically, yet sincerely, states that though she hated her old school, she enjoyed hating it as she knew where she belonged. Bofill’s earnest and sharp dialog is entertaining throughout, building nicely to an explosive scene the first time all four characters appear together. Ultimately I laughed and was moved, and really, what more can you ask for from a night at the theater?