Michael Murphy's The Uninvited Guest is an astonishingly well-written play dealing with sibling rivalry, pride, and incest. The Emerging Artists Theatre Company's bold production delivered a brand of drama that kept unsuspecting spectators at the edge of their seats.
Inspired by the 1998 Danish film The Celebration, Murphy has written dialog that dances on the stage practically on its own. A well-reputed family is having a dinner with a few invited guests, including a member of a renowned prize committee. When the feast is over, the youngest son, Mardy (David Runco), who has just been expelled from university, announces in his toast that he is indebted to his father for raping him continually as a boy, as it gave him the preparation he needed to endure the coldness in the world. In a state of shock and denial, the family pleads unsuccessfully with their notable guest not to leave. It later develops that Katie, the middle sister (played glowingly by Rachel Lee Harris), was also abused but was determined to keep it a secret, until pressured to reveal her experiences on this fateful night. The younger siblings plan to get a confession from their father (Ryan Hilliard) by force, and find photos of the father in the act with Katie. The play ends with the eldest son staying with his father in his time of need while other siblings and eldest son's pregnant wife leave the house, with no plan to return.
Harris portrayed the role of the rich, spoiled sister with a convincing air, while her teenage lover Todd (played delightfully by Sean Matic) complemented the rest of the cast as a figure disdained by this intellectual family.
Michael Graves played Dr. Royce, the distinguished guest whom the family means to impress. His relaxed and confident manner was noticed mostly when the tension began and his character became withdrawn and wary.
Costume designer Sidney Shannon did a fabulous job making Harris look like the quintessential vixen of the finest set. The feline actress chased down drink after drink in a slinky cocktail dress. In an effectively prolonged moment of solitude when Runco returned to the bar to pour himself another drink (this family loves their liquor), the audience had a moment to take in the details of the set design by Scott Aronow. The effort put forth in the layout of the room was spectacular.
Shannon's work was also effective with the family's matriarch, Mrs. Mason, played by Jane Altman. The actress was regal and delicate and gave the impression that the character had never worked a day in her life. Jack Garrity played eldest brother Tyler, whose incessant ranting was truly a nuisance and was wonderful to watch. His self-righteousness provided strong conflict between him and his siblings throughout the play. When his wife, Claire (played regally by the beautiful Kittson O'Neil), insists on knowing more about this new revelation of incest in the family, as she is pregnant with her husband's child, Garrity's vulnerability peeped through the cracks and showed the fear of disappointing his father. Playwright Murphy's choice of demanding that Claire be educated in the family's past is enlightening. Altman captured that generation of women who turned a blind eye to the evils around her.
Admittedly, family dramas are a dime a dozen Off-Off Broadway. But a great script and a good production are uncommon, and that is reason enough to catch this show the next time it comes around. Its return is inevitable.
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Copyright 2003 Jade Esteban Estrada