The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Family Week

I thought it would be bad having my family here. I was anxious. But I'm glad they've come. We can face some problems. There's a lot of fear and shame and anger and grief and sadness to face. — Claire, one of three sisters whose tragic loss of a son has resulted in her being in a mental rehabilitation center and kicks up a raft of past relationship issues during Family Week which is part of the center's treatment.
Family Week
(l-r) Kathleen Chalfant, Rosemarie DeWitt and Sami Gayle
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Beth Henley's Family Week opened at the now defunct Century Center exactly ten years ago. My review was barely posted, when its move from stage to grave was announced. Small wonder. This was very much a problem play — an uneasy mix of havy duty tragedy and comedy, a picture of the therapeutic profession that failed to enlighten or satrize, and just too many issues thrown into the dramatic stew.

Now Family Week is back under the auspices of Manhattan Class Company (MCC). According to the press notices the script has been updated. Besides an intriguing cast it also has Jonathan Demme, a well-known film director (Silence of the Lambs) making his stage directing debut. While I'll admit that I had my reservations as to whether Henley could really fix what struck me (as well as other critics) as a fatally flawed play. curiosity about seeing Demme's first outing as a stage director and any opportunity to see Kathleen Chalfant made a trip to MCC's home at the Lortel Theater imperative.

I wish I could report that all my reservations were unfounded. Family Week still provides little hope for an upbeat future for these people, at least as a family. Except for references to an internet start up business and a welcome 15-minute trimming, its hard to pinpoint any easily discernible major changes.

As staged by Demme, the nineteen bite-sized scenes somehow emphasize the overload of problems being tackled but never really deeply explored. Kathleen Chalfant, though always a pleasure to watch, doesn't seem quite comfortable in her role as the family matriarch. Still, if you're a Henley fan, you'll find her usual array of quirky character and recognize similarities to her Pulitzer winning play Crimes of the Heart in the act of violence used to kickstart gradually revealedl bits and pieces about the family's long standing problems.

The title, Family Week, refers to a program at an Arizona Rehabilitation Center repeatedly described as the country's best. Claire (Rosemarie DeWitt who starred in director Demme's Rachel Getting Married is at home in her complex character) has been sent there by her back home therapist to cope with the tragedy of her teen-aged son Daniel's murder. (This is not a spoiler! It's discussed early on in the play. The play's surprises are more deeply embedded in various interchanges). To help Claire recover and return home, her mother Lena (Chalfant), sister Rickey (Quincy Tyler Bernstine, the play's liveliest presence), and 13-year-old daughter Kay (Sami Gayle who's playing this a bit too much as if she were still Baby June in Gypsy) have come to participate in the Family Week program.

Not surprisingly, the cracks in the family relationships go back long before the tragic murder. While there's evidence of Ms. Henley's bent towards quirky humor, especially in Bernstine's Rickey, this is hardly a comedy, even when that genre is modified by "bitterly dark " — unless you think growing up with an alcoholic mother, spousal and parental abuse and a murdered family member are subjects for laughter.

The center's location in an unnamed desert is an apt symbol for the four central characters' being stranded in lives filled with unhappiness that's rooted in equal parts circumstance and longstanding patterns of dysfunction. Derek McLane has created a handsome functional set with its large upstage windows through which we can watch the landscape that evocatively lit by Kenneth Posner. However, the constant shift from one scene to another, with actors moving on and off stage and also moving the props around becomes tiresome and distracting.

As Ms. Henley moves us through the seven days of the title event she has Claire, Lena, Rickey and Kay act as one of the Center's counselors — a nice touch symbolizing that ultimately we must all be our own therapists. Unfortunately all the trendy exercises that are part of the Pastures Recovery Center's methodology aren't any more fun to watch as they are to play. For me they brought to mind another small cast play by a less well known writer and director and without any high drama like a murder: Circle Mirror Transformation (review) written by Annie Baker and directed by Sam Gold. While I thought that play's exercises (part of an acting class at a small town community center) went on a bit too long, they did amusingly, touchingly and organically reveal each character's personal drama. Somehow I found Baker's ordinary people and their small dramas more engaging and memorable than those in Henley's more volatile family saga.

Incidentally, the Family Week program also lists two other actors, Daisey J. Collier as Jessica and Paul T. Ridgeley as Jim. The former is another sister who has long ago distanced herself from the family; the latter is Claire's husband and Kay's dad, a high powered lawyer who makes Claire's stay at this expensive retreat economically viable . Both are no-shows and thus only present as voices on the other end of a phone line.
Family Week by Beth Henley
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Cast: Rosemarie Dewitt (Claire), Kathleen Chalfant (Lena), Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Rickey), Sami Gayle (Kay)
Sets: Derek McLane
Costumes: Mimi O'Donnell
Lighting: Keneth Posner
Sound: Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen
Original Music: Dan Bern
Stage Manager Lisa Porter
Rrunning Time: 75 minutes, without intermission
MCC at Lucile Lortel theater (212) 279-4200.
Tickets $79.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at May 2nd press performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Family Week
  • I disagree with the review of Family Week
  • The review made me eager to see Family Week
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

You can also contact us at Curtainup at Facebook , Curtainup at Twitter and at our Blog Annex
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill Broadway Yearbook


©Copyright 2010, Elyse Sommer
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from