January 22, 2013
by Mark Lamos
Long after our 2013 Season of plays came together I began to realize a theme throughout. Though each play is vastly and richly different from the other four, all five seem to be about the concept of 'family'. Family has been at the heart of theater since its beginnings in ancient Greece. The turmoil and transgressions of parents, sons, and daughters are central to each tragedy, from Antigone to The Oresteia. Shakespeare's plays also mine the meaning of what it is to be a family, from his history plays dealing with the Wars of the Roses (a family dispute, in a way) and the tangled lives of the inhabitants of the castle of Elsinore. In our own time, the tradition continues, from O'Neill's excoriating Long Day’s Journey Into Night through Miller's incomparably powerful Death of a Salesman and All My Sons to Albee's Three Tall Women.
A.R. 'Pete' Gurney's The Dining Room is a dissection of familial relations through generations of New Englanders, their lives passing before them as society changes. Pete has had many of his plays produced at the Playhouse, so there is a sort of Gurney tradition here, if you will. I've also been fortunate to direct a number of his premieres, so our relationship enhanced the idea of opening the season with this special play. It's rueful, funny, wise, knowing, and every kind of family will relate to the many members of the extended one portrayed so acutely and affectionately by Pete. George Kelly's unclassifiable The Show-Off also shows the divisions within a middle class family when one of its daughters falls in love with a man no one can begin to like or even believe. The laughter comes from the pitched battle between mother-of-the-bride to be and the brashly ridiculous fiance. Miraculously, however, the characters are drawn so realistically that what comedy there is – and there's a lot of it – is deeply enriching, absorbing, surprising, and tinged with sadness.
We meet an altogether different kind of family in Joe Orton's mad, black comedy Loot, which begins by depicting what ought to be a profoundly sad situation. The curtain rises on a middle-class English sitting room with a coffin in it, the bereaved widower by its side, a nurse still present. But then, improbably, the fun begins. In pointed, brittle, dazzling dialogue, conventions of middle class life are shredded, the wildly improbable becomes probable, and we are shocked into laughter. Loot is by far the darkest – and yet perhaps the funniest – play in our 2013 Season. A Jewish family living in New York is at the center of our next production, a World Premiere by Carly Mensch called Oblivion. The drama centers on the divisions within the family, when generational differences cause the parents to recalculate their identities and beliefs, and cause children to investigate the choices they make in life. Finally, the farce Room Service, can also be seen to have the concept of family at its core – the kind of family we at the Playhouse will create five times a season: the family that is quickly born when a play is cast and a team of designers, director, and backstage staff are in place. Family of necessity, I call it – and it can be just as unpredictable and dysfunctional – or deliciously functional – as a biological family. But it is a family nonetheless, a passionate, creative, rambunctious one. I always consider myself lucky to be in a profession that necessitates creating and guiding and enjoying so many different families.
I hope you consider yourself part of the Playhouse family, for that is what we become when we are all in that theater together, having a conversation with ourselves and the world made possible by live performance of a great play. The Playhouse family is growing, and your presence enriches the work – makes it possible, makes it necessary.
Your presence completes our concept of 'Family'.
View our 2013 Season video (3:00) by clicking the image below: