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By Elyse Sommer

I do try but the world is so in need of criticism --- Eleanor on trying to be less critical, which extends to her children because, as she says, "I can't separate the world from my children."

If there were a contest for the play with the most plot complications, David Marshall Grant's second play, would be a leading contender. To his credit, he has given his characters enough smart and funny dialogue to keep you amused and attentive as he unravel all those plot threads, the "current events" that go way back in the lives of his six characters.

Those six characters are also played by actors with the required timing to make the most of their lines, with one a career-making performance by John Gallagher Jr. as Ethan -- the fifteen-year-old whose hunger strike stretches his family's bonds of dysfunction to the breaking point. I hate this overused adjective but it is unavoidable for this family which includes:

Adam, a liberal but vote-conscious politician (Jon Tenney) in the midst of a congressional campaign.
  • Adam's mother Eleanor (Barbara Barrie), an incorrigible and uncompromising do gooder and tough mom.
  • Adam's forty-something sister Diana (Christine Ebersole), a middle-aged ex-model of spectacular incompetence, particularly in her efforts to deal with the move from Manhattan to her mother's home in Connecticut. Diana also happens to be Ethan's adoptive mother (because "the social system of the 70s left me with a lot of scar tissue").

    I'm not being a spoiler if I also tell you that Adam is really Ethan's father since that's obvious within five minutes of his arrival on stage. The family secret is less about his paternity but whether he'll finally own up to it and his own undiscussed teenage trauma (could Ethan be following in dad's footsteps). To add to the overstuffed plot, there's a flirtation between Diana and Adam's millionaire political aide Jamie (Jeremy Hollingworth) who, along with Ethan's best friend Danny (Seth Kirschner) also introduces a note of gay self-awareness into the already overstuffed plot.

    Derek McLane's inviting two-tiered set includes all the prerequisites for detailing the family history: Lots of books. . . an incliner for Barbara Barrie (though the reason for her being wheelchair bound is as unclear as the details about the WASP father who moved to California for a younger and presumably less outspoken liberal Jewish wife ). . . a computer which, lest we forget that this is a political comedy, has an old American flag as a screensaver and the closing image for the first part of the play. Jason Robert Brown's incidental music enhances the mood as it did for MTC's Fuddy Meers, (see link) also directed Petrarca.

    If it all sounds like it could be a lot of fun and even have something to say, you're right. Unfortunately, the parts do not make for a sufficiently satisfying and incisive whole. What could be a welcome political satire, is, in the final analysis, a well-acted but innocuous sitcom with a realistic ending. It has as many holes as those blue plastic bags in which The New York Times is delivered -- the very same bags neatly used by Mr. Grant to connect Adam's and Etha's stories. Maybe the failure of promising new playwrights like Grant and seasoned practitioners like Wendy Wasserstein to spark this genre, accounts for plans to bring back Gore Vidal's 1960 play The Best Man. And yet, Mr. Grant has enough talent to make us hope that he will come up with a play which is as good in its sum as it is in its parts.

    To read our review of David Marshall Grant's first play, go here

    by David Marshall Grant.
    Directed by David Petrarca
    Cast: John Gallagher Jr. (Ethan), Seth Kirschner (Danny), Christine Ebersole (Diana), Jon Tenney (Adam), Jeremy Hollingworth (Jamie) and Barbara Barrie (Eleanor).
    Set Design: Derek McLane
    Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
    Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
    Sound Design: Bruce Ellman
    Original music by Jason Robert Brown
    Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes, including 1 intermission
    Manhattan Theater Club, Stage 2, 131 W 55th St. (6th/8th Avs), 581-1212
    5/23/2000-7/16/200; opening 6/13/2000

    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

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