“Family and Other Strangers” Proves Strange, Intriguing

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Bwog’s very own stand-up comedian theater connoisseur Dane Cook reports from the premier.

This weekend’s production of Family and Other Strangers, put on by King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe, defers from the Bard for a moment to showcase the writing of Edward Albee. Pairing two of Albee’s earliest one-act plays, the show is a satirical ride into the theater of the absurd.

The opening play, The American Dream, directed by Emily Wilson, takes a skeptical look (or rather a glare) into modern American life and aspirations. A sickeningly ‘typical’ family of three banters and quarrels as they lounge in their adequately quaint living room. A manipulative Mommy (Tamara Geisler) and an emasculated Daddy (John Peacock) impatiently await some form of satisfaction to arrive – a satisfaction that eludes them entirely. Although Grandma (Courtney Mitchell) interjects witty aggression and cutting complaints throughout, she is Albee’s only offering of sanity: she seems to have things figured out, whether she reveals it or not. Including the less central roles of Mrs. Baker (Christina McCarver), an overly vivacious do-gooder, and the Young Man (Ondraius Richardson), the American dream incarnate, each character plays off the absurdity of the others. The dialogue shifts gears rapidly, teasing the audience with hints, gestures, and fragments of reality.

Every character proved perfectly zany and amusingly sketched. At times, however, the overall interplay fell flat. A few awkward deliveries and lackluster interactions rendered the already disorienting script almost entirely befuddling. The laugh track that played sporadically from the auditorium’s speakers seemed at first a novel and intriguing element, but, due in part to a few technical miscues, it induced further head-scratching and ultimately detracted from the show. Although the performance was certainly enjoyable, The American Dream proved more confusing than convincing.

The second play, entitled The Zoo Story, directed by Leor Hackel, built upon the inanity of the first but delivered a more polished performance on nearly all accounts. A bare-bones production at its best, the play consists of two actors, two park benches, and an eerily well-told story. It is the story of Jerry (James Underwood) and Peter (Dennis V. Perepelitsa), two perfect strangers who coincidentally meet at a Central Park bench on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Jerry, a poor and lonely young man, entreats Peter to converse with him, and after a few overly personal questions, Jerry delves into an enthralling tale of struggle, love, God – and hamburger meat. Throughout the play, Peter and the audience alike become entrapped in a cat and mouse hunt for Jerry’s sanity and a roller coaster of ambiguity keeps everyone guessing.

Truly, Underwood’s portrayal of Jerry stands as the strongest pillar of the entire production. Playful yet terse, innocent yet creepy, he torments himself, Peter, and the audience in such convincing fashion that his character seems nearly impossible to pin down. Executing lengthy monologues with skillful comedic timing, Underwood captures the mastery of Albee’s script and presents it seamlessly.

Luckily for you, Family and Other Strangers will be running one more show at 8:30 tonight in Roone Aldridge Auditorium, and don’t fret – tickets are free.

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  1. wow  

    I'm amazed that no one commented on this. Weird.

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