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A CurtainUp Review
Gone Home
Why do you leave? --- Jack
Because I can't stay --- Del
Then why do you come back? --- Jack
Because I can't stay gone ---Del
Kellie Overbey, Josh Hamilton & Chelsea Altman
Kellie Overbey, Josh Hamilton & Chelsea Altman (Photo: Joan Marcus)
It's been an unusually fertile two weeks for anyone interested in seeing new dramas by young American playwrights. First came the lovely production Playwrights Horizons gave to Christopher Shinn's first American premiere, What Didn't Happen. This week, we have a new play by the best known of these playwrights, Neil La Bute (The link to The Mercy Seat below will become active after the official opening), and Gone Home. by a writer unknown to New York audiences, Chicago native John Corwin.

Gone Home, comes to Off-Broadway under the auspices of Manhattan Theatre Club, directed by David Warren and with some fine actors playing the members of Corwin's dysfunctional family: Josh Hamilton as Jack, a twenty-eight-year-old writer who left the family's suburban Chicago home at eighteen and now lives in New York with his wife Kate (Chelsea Altman), also a writer, and the parents (Kellie Overbey and Rob Campbell) and mentally unstable sister Susie (Callie Thorne) from whom he totally divorced himself.

Corwin is not out to do another expose of the rot festering beneath the surface of so many families living average American lives. What he's after is a way to understand how the pictures in the family albums of our mental memories evoke some scenes intensified by years of replaying them, just as denial has faded others. Jack's going home to his family represents his need to bring those faded parts of his memory book into focus in order to finally lay to rest the lingering pain of missed opportunities for dealing with conflicting needs and expectations.

There's nothing particularly new here. Countless stories in books and screen plays have centered around old family wounds being opened and/or healed by reunions prompted by events ranging from holidays to weddings to funerals. Like many fledgling writers, Corwin strains too hard for a new hook. Thus he strives to keeps us on edge about the full details about what caused the rift as well as about what brought Jack back. As plain and ordinary as the family living room looks, there's something oddly mysterious, almost surreal, about this homecoming. Why does Jack never moves off the couch? Why do the other characters seem to float on and off stage -- and always one at a time? Why do Ann and Del look more like Jack's brother and sister than his parents?

Corwin is not stingy in throwing hints into Jack's conversations with his mother, father, sister and wife and you'll probably figure out the reasons for the manner and style of his return (even the title's tense is a hint!). Nevetheless, I hesitate to spoil your gradually building awareness of the how, what and why of the situation with a more detailed plot summary. Suffice it to say, that Jack's interaction with the other characters provides enough details to put us in touch with the painful fault lines and fallout from the ten year disconnect and helps us to know and sympathize with all. Kellie Overbey rates a special hand for her cool, crisp handling of the fifty-something mother. Callie Thorne is particularly touching as the sister who veers between maniacal intensity and a frailty reminiscent of Laura in The Glass Menagerie. Suzie's pleasure in the words culled from the gift she bought with money from her job at Denny's -- a dictionary -- is infectious and her choice of words like "congenital" and "disquietude" reveal unexpected insights into the family dynamic.

To sum up, Gone Home is not so much a good play as a showcase for a playwright who may next time fulfill the promise of his ambition and our expectations; nor is it easy to watch. The story telling device and the demand of the main character to let everyone else move while he seems rooted to the couch (a difficult acting task ably handled by Josh Hamilton) makes for an often claustrophobic, static overall effect, which is not helped by David Warren's direction. At its best Gone Home is an honest look at the familial chord that many try but few succeed in severing.

What Didn't Happen
The Mercy Seat

Written by John Corwin
Directed by David Warren
Cast: Chelsea Altman (Kate), Rob Campbell (Del), Josh Hamilton (Jack), Kellie Overbey (Anne) and Callie Thorne (Suzie)
Set Design: James Youmans ,
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes, includes one intermission
Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II at City Center, 131 West 55th St. (6th/7th Aves) 212/ 581-1212.
MTC website
11/25/02-1/26/03; opening 12/17/02.
Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30PM, with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 PM.-- $45'$20 student tickets are on sale for all performances based on availability,

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance.
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