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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
While the popular playwright's other current world premiere, Bernhardt/Hamlet, is a period drama, Downstairs does not go back to the era of the genre from which she's borrowing. The grungy basement (nicely detailed by Narelle Sissons) in which it's set is in a present day house in an unnamed American town or city.
The story that unspools over an unspecific period of time (probably several weeks) actually begins as a dysfunctional family drama focusing on the troubled reunion of two middle-aged siblings, Irene and Teddy. It only gradually switches gears into Gaslight territory as we realize that there's more to Teddy's need to veg out in his sister's basement than a stalled new business enterprise and claims that someone he's worked with is trying to poison him.
What's more that there's something unnatural, and downright dangerous going on to make Irene nervous about her brother's unexpected stay in her and her husband Gerry's house. And that there's something something about that computer that works for Teddy though Irene insists it's broken.
As for Gerry (John Procaccino). . . while he doesn't actually come down that creaky staircase until half way into the intermissionless 100 minute play, he lurks over the proceedings throughout. If you've seen the always excellent Procaccino before, you know he's no Charles Boyer (who together with Ingrid Bergman made Gaslight an all time favorite movie thriller); that's even if he turns out to be not just bossy but dangerous. Rebeck, is a savvy writer who knows how to create well constructed plays with believable, characters whose dialogue flows naturally.
Ms. Rebeck has indeed created two interesting characters for the Dalys, especially since it allows them to stretch themselves in atypical for them roles. The insecure, old-fashioned Irene is a far remove from the strong women Tyne Daly usually plays and neither is the unkempt, needy misfit her younger brother plays anything like the handsome TV men he inhabits on TV. The way both ably inhabit these different for them characters is enriched by the chemistry resulting from their close off-stage relationship. And Mr. Procaccino once he does appear is genuinely scary.
The problem is that the scare factor that is so essential for this entertainment genre to work somehow isn't all that much of a tooth clencher to keep us on the edge of our seats. Despite director Adrienne Campbell-Holt and the three excellent actors doing their best to make this old-fashioned domestic thriller genre less creaky but creepy as ever, this is not as satisfying as other premieres presented by Primary Stages.
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Downstairs by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
Cast: Tyne Daly as Irene, Tim Daly as Teddy, John Procaccino as Gerry
Scenic design by Narelle Sissons
Costume design by Sarah Laux
Lighting design by Michael Iannitti
Sound design by M.L. Dogg
Stage Manager: Carolyn Richer
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission
Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre
From 11/07/18;opening 11/18/18; closing 12/22/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/22 matinee
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