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A CurtainUp Review
A Family For All Occasions

"Men are more. . .it's hard to explain...hard to find the right word-- "staunch," maybe. . .More used to trauma, y'know. It's more our nature. Trauma's more natural to us."— Howard
A Family for All Occasions
Jeffrey Demunn and Deirdre O'Connell
Like any classic "stranger come to town," Oz (William Jackson Harper) arouses suspicion when he crash-lands in the home of a young woman, Sue (Justine Lupe), he has met the night before. It doesn't help that he's discovered by the girl's father, Howard (Jeffrey Demunn), after leaving the bathroom where his daughter is bathing. Or that he's black.

But Oz is almost preternaturally controlled, and like any smooth talker, he quickly ingratiates himself to the whole family. Indeed, Oz's effect on this family appears, for much of Bob Glaudini's new play, A Family For All Occasions magical. But like so many of the characters in his tradition, Oz is not quite the otherworldly figure that he seems -- in fact, just as prone to dysfunction as everyone else in this home.

Though the play mostly sticks to dramatic conventions, it is an expertly crafted and sincere work, made brilliant by its memorable performances and a beautiful production directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Before Oz arrives the family is a mess. Howard is recently retired, and a bit of a doddering, ineffectual father. His wife May, played with prickly abandon by Deirdre O'Connell, is over-worked and less forgiving. Howard's children, the product of a previous marriage that ended in abandonment, are equally yet uniquely messed up. Charlie Saxton seems almost destined to play Sam, an emotionally stunted, surly computer programmer who refuses to get a job and abandon his video game passion project. Sue, conversely, is a little too friendly — and its her penchant for late nights with strange men that sets the play in motion.

But Oz is not like a lot of her other boyfriends. For whatever reason, he's immediately and irrevocably serious about Sue, and, in turn, her whole family. And though the precise details of his upbringing and his work are a bit sketchy, he proves himself an earnest suitor and amply competent at endearing himself to others.

Sam is sold when Oz offers to procure him a top-notch computer. Howard, meanwhile, is impressed by his vocabulary ("A friend of my daughter's that puts a word in a sentence!"). It's not clear how Oz wins May over (they never officially meet on that first day), but by the second act it's clear she has come around to him. By then, Oz has become a regular household fixture, but his relationship with Sue, through seemingly no fault of his own, has begun to deteriorate.

Sam's new computer, meanwhile, has given him the means to finally leave the house. In his absence, Howard suffers some empty nest symptoms, and he and Oz grow closer. It's over a game of Scrabble one night that Oz plays the word "xerophytic" — describing a plant that has adapted to survive in an arid environment.

It's not too hard to connect the dots here. The characters in A Family For All Occasions are much like those plants — downtrodden, yet managing, despite the odds, to grow. The ending may be a little syrupy, but it's hard not to become a little sentimental about these characters, and not more than a little spellbound by the authentic performances that bring them rattling to life.

Like the down-to-earth, understated characters in Glaudini's 2007 play,Jack Goes Boating there's something delightfully and modestly real about these lives portrayed on stage (made all the more present by David Meyer's intimate set, which opens some rooms and closes others like a discerning keeper of secrets).

The play is also a triumph for the Labyrinth Theater Company's new artistic leadership. Mimi O'Donnell, has just recently taken over the title of artistic director, after three years in which the company struggled under inconsistent management. If this new production is any indicator, this new appointment spells well for its future.
A Family For All Occasions
Written by Bob Glaudini
Directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Cast: Jeffrey Demunn (Howard), William Jackson Harper (Oz), Justine Lupe (Sue), Deirdre O'Connell (May), Charlie Saxton (Sam)
Set Design: David Meyer
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design: Jill BC DuBoff
Costume Design: Gali Noy
Stage Manager: Pamela Salling
Running Time: 130 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
The Bank Street Theater, 155 Bank St, New York, NY 10014 (212) 513-1080
Beginning 4/25/2013, opening 5/12/2013, closing 5/26/2013
Performance times: Wed-Fri at 8pm, Sat at 2pm and 8pm, Sun at 7pmbr> Ticket cost: $35-$45
Reviewed by Jordan G. Teicher at 5/11/2013 performance.
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