Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kin: A Sharp and Funny Look at Friends and Family

Sam Gold, Kristen Bush, Bathsheba Doran, & Patch Darragh. 

If I were to have a play of my own produced, I can’t think of a an organization I’d rather have behind me than Playwrights Horizons, with its stated mission of supporting and developing contemporary American playwrights—a mission it lives up to consistently and with great results. 

This season alone has given us such lovely little gems as Amy Herzog’s After the Revolution, and Adam Bock’s A Small Fire, both of which I have written about previously.  Now we have Kin, a new play by Bathsheba Doran, which is so clearly a labor of love for all concerned.  

Ms. Doran, who also writes for television, has several plays to her credit and has garnered a number of playwriting awards, although, to judge by published reviews (I’ve not seen any of her previous work), she has not always been wildly embraced by the critics.  

However, I predict a more enthusiastic response to Kin, a sharp and funny riff on the theme of “boy meets girl” that is being performed by a strong ensemble cast—beautifully directed by Sam Gold, a rising star who continues to bring out the best in the productions he is associated with (Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens, and Kim Rosenstock’s Tigers Be Still, to mention but a few of his recent successes).

Kin tells the story of Anna, an Ivy League English lit professor, who becomes romantically involved with Sean, an Irish immigrant who works as a personal trainer.  The pair, well-acted by Kristen Bush and Patch Darragh (“Tom” in Roundabout’s wonderful production of A Glass Menagerie last season), come together, drift apart, and reunite over the course of the play. 

Ms. Doran weaves a tapestry out of short scenes involving the pair and various members of their intersecting and growing circle of friends and family, of which there are perhaps a few more than the weave of the plot can comfortably carry.  At times, I felt as though I were watching one of a series of plays, and that—over time—each of the characters would take turns being the central character. Who knows?  Maybe this is what the playwright has in mind. 

If that is so, at least two of them deserve plays of their own.  One is Anna’s neurotic actress friend Helena who keeps popping in and out of Anna's life.  As portrayed by Laura Heisler, Helena is both wacky-funny and a little scary.  If a scene involving a bear and a hunter seems to have been dropped into Kin from some other play altogether, it is also very much in keeping with the character. 

The other deeply compelling role is that of Linda, Sean’s agoraphobic mother back in Ireland.  Richly portrayed by Suzanne Bertish, Linda is given a powerful and moving back-story, so that when she emerges from her home for the first time in decades, it becomes a momentous occasion.

Director Gold manages all of the intersecting storylines with great skill, aided splendidly by scenic designer Paul Steinberg, who keeps the many scene changes moving at a rapid pace and throws in at least one surprising touch that takes a common theatrical device and pushes it over the top to hilarious results.

Given Ms. Doran’s increasing visibility as a television writer, the playwright may decide that Hollywood is where her future lies.  If that’s the case, I would encourage her to keep the characters she has so lovingly introduced in Kin and further develop them for a wider audience.  And while she is at it, I hope she continues to find time for writing for the theater.  Perhaps an Obie or two would provide the impetus to keep her coming back to New York. 

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