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A CurtainUp Review
Killers and Other Family

Killers. . .as part of the Fall 2013 Thurber Hill Town Plays Retrospective
This is getting a third life (Thurber was unhappy with the first version) as part of an unusual Thurber marathon sponsored by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Axis Company at various downtown location which this time puts Killers and Other Family at Axis Theater One Sheridan Square. From 8/14/13; closing 9/28/13. It's unusual since this sort of retrospective is usually something reserved for playwrights older and more established than Ms. Thurber.

An asterisk before the following current production's team indicates their having also been on board for the last production.
Directed by *Caitriona McLaughlin.
Cast: *Aya Cash, Shane McRae, *Samantha Soule, Chris Stack.
*John McDermott (Set), *Emily Rebholz (Costume), David Zeffren (Lighting), Steve Fontaine (Sound).
Performance Schedule: Monday at 7PM, Wednesday at 8PM, Thursday at 7PM, Friday at 8PM, Saturday at 2PM and 8PM, Sunday at 5PM

Every dream you ever had, you and Danny drink away. You grew up just like Mom. That's something we promised we'd never do. I kept my promise. Why didn't you?.—Elizabeth to her brother.
L to R: Samantha Soule (Lizzie), Aya Cash (Claire), Shane McRae (Danny), Dashiell Eaves (Jeff)
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)
Since presenting the world premiere of Killers and Other Family, which is part of what Lucy Thurber refers to as her Massachussets cycle, the Rattlestick Theater has produced two other plays by her. I was curious to see how the company and the playwright addressed what they admitted was "not quite right" about that initial production.

I can see where Thurber has sharpened her characters somewhat and director Caitriona McLaughlin has assembled a splendid cast and wisely abandoned some of the first helmer's excessive flourishes (no operatic accompaniment to a sexual encounter that's really a rape scene).

The parenthetical tagline, A Play that Function as a Waking Nightmare, that Thurber has added to her script should probably be included in the program. Perhaps if seen as a nightmare what happens on stage might be seen for what it is rather than to expect the audience to accept it as believably real.

Whatever the changes in the script and the staging (the loud music is toned down, the set though a bit too bright and cheery is an effective visual warning not to take first appearances at face value), Killers and Other Family is still more a case study in psychotic behavior and neurotic neediness than a truly satisfying play. While some audience members at the performance I attended burst into laughter several times (Aya Cash's Claire does have some funny lines), this is not a dark comedy, but simply, a dark, unpleasant to watch play (Don't let the foursome's genial enough looking lunch in the picture I've included fool you). While the cast and the director are to be commended for maximizing the play's tension, this production ultimately doesn't completely alter my original opinion. I'm therefore continuing this review with a re-post of my original take, followed by the current production notes.

Review of the original Killers and Other Family

It would be nice to report that Rattlestick's outstanding revival of Saved Or Destroyed was now being succeeded by an outstanding new play. Alas, such is not the case.

The world premiere of Lucy Thurber's Killers and Other Family would make an interesting case study for advanced students of psychiatry. As a play it has the feel of a TV crime show, but without a crime show writer's realistic details and soundly motivated characters. Ms. Thurber has so overcooked the plot and characters of her potentially interesting behind-the-headlines situation that, if it were indeed the television crime drama, you would soon hit the off-button of your remote. Her cast consists of two intelligent women (could this be intended as a feminist thriller?) and two not very solidly packed men.

Both men are bad news. Danny (Dan Snook now Shane McCrae) who at first seems like a mean drunk is in fact psychotic. A forensic psychiatrist I recently heard interviewed, declared there are three million Dannys roaming this country. I doubt he'd swallow Ms. Thurber's manipulation of this character. Danny's buddy Jeff (Jason Weinberg now played by Dashiell Eaves). is just a shade less demented, and probably even dumber,.

Elizabeth (Ana Reeder now played by Samantha Soule), Jeff's kid sister and Danny's ex-girlfriend, is the play's central figure. I suppose you could even call her its heroine. She has escaped Danny's and Jeff's emotional and sexual abuse by virtue of a college education and a lesbian relationship. Or so she thinks. The lesbian love affair seems less a case of genuine sexual inclination than a reaction to the fear of men (besides being seduced by Danny when she was just twelve, she also had to dodge her alcoholic mother's boyfriends). This bright young woman is about to get her PhD in an unspecified specialty, probably something to do with calming down bipolar killers. If the methods she uses here are any indication, her dissertation is unlikely to pass muster.

Claire (Tessa Auberjonois now played by Aya Cash) is Elizabeth's lover. Unlike the other three she has had the benefit of a middle class, two-parent upbringing and is thus the normal member of this foursome. This normalcy comes into serious question when she fails to take advantage of several chances to get away from the play's increasing mayhem and call the police.

The four actors, especially Ana Reeder, almost convince you that there is a worthy play lurking within these messy events. Too bad that their valiant effort to grapple with their characters' contradictions is undermined not just by the script but the staging. Director John Lawler, who comes to Rattlestick with outstanding credentials has badly miscued his design team.

The pounding music that makes waiting for the play to begin feels like sitting through endless noisy previews at a movie theater is at least appropriate to the play -- but Mr. Lawler seems to have forgotten that he's not directing an opera when he had his sound designer accompany a sex scene that's really a rape with Offenbach's Barcarolle. Given that this is a downtown Manhattan walkup, the room-sized arched window that faces a brick wall makes the set as incongruous as what happens on it.

To conclude, don't let this unenthusiastic appraisal keep you away from the excellent Rattlestick and its cozy home on Waverly Place. I've seen a number of solid new plays there over the years -- and expect to see more of the same.

> The premiere production was directed by John Lawler, with sets by Charles Kirby, lighting by Bobby Harrell, costumes by Dave Barber and Sound by Jason Mills It played at the Rattlestick from 1/17/01 to 2/18/01 and also ran 85 minutes without intermission

Other Lucy Thurber plays at Curtainup:
Scarcity at Atlantic Theater (2007)
Stay at Rattlestick 2007
Where We're Born at Rattlestick 2003
Killers and Other Family
Written by Lucy Thurber
Directed by Caitriona McLaughlin
Cast: Aya Cash (Claire), Dashiell Eaves (Jeff), Shane McRae (Danny) and Samantha Soule (Lizzie)
Sets by John McDermott
Lighting by Benjamin Ehrenreich
Sound by Isaac Butler
Costumes by Emily Rebholz
Props by Eugenia Furneaux-Arends
Fight choreography by David Anzuelo
Production Stage Manager: Terri K. Kohler
Running Time: 85 Minutes Rattlestick Theater 224 Waverly Place (off Seventh Avenue South - Between West 11th and Perry Street)
om 9/16/09; opening 9/24/09; closing 10/17/09
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 9/19/09
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