All in the family



Written by Frederic Glover
Directed by Kathleen Brant
WorkShop Theater Company
312 West 36th St., 4th Floor East, Main Stage Theater
/ (212) 695-4173)
Equity approved showcase (through March 31)
Review by David Mackler


Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms doesn’t have the cachet of The Iceman Cometh or the lyricism of A Moon for the Misbegotten, but it does have a great title, and lots of passion. It also has a suitably turgid movie version from 1958, and is certainly eligible for a send-up. Frederic Glover’s Desire in the Suburbs has a good setup and a terrific set (by Tim Golebiewski), but it is directed and acted with a disappointing lack of the kind of juice needed to give it the oomph it seems to aspire to.


Whether director Kathleen Brant decided the script was strong enough to reveal its own comic qualities while played mostly straight, or the actors chose to let the audience decide for itself what was melodrama and what was comic-drama, much of the theatrical possibilities come to naught. Mike (Baz Snider) has a new, young wife, Jenny (Dee Dee Friedman), and his grown son, Ed (Timothy Scott Harris), who has moved back to the Westchester home where he grew up after being laid off, clearly disapproves.


None of them are terribly nice people – Dad has a stable of female ‘friends’ he visits on out-of-town trips, Jenny seems to have married Mike to get financing for her beauty parlor, and Ed, who may or may not be right regarding his suspicions about his mother’s disappearance, has an inflated sense of his own worth. And they all do an awful lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. Mike and Ed argue politics and employment and needle each other endlessly, but the provocations are obvious, and not very enlightening. Same when Ed first confronts Jen with what he’s found out about her family, and why they’re not around. The audience is pointed to suppose that everyone may be lying, but it’s all just talk.


Until Ed’s seduction of Jen. He’s working out in the middle of the night, and she doesn’t sleep well. Or so she says, it really doesn’t matter, because finally, something is happening. He’s pumping iron, and accusing her of complicity in her family’s disappearance, and says the only way they can get what they want is to eliminate Mike. It’s clear what he’s doing, but dramatically it’s got several layers. There’s even a welcome moment of camp at the blackout when Jen puts her hands on Ed, who’s all sweaty.


But that’s about it. The second act has more plot, some revelations, and a bit of suspense when Ed’s plot is set in motion. This stuff needs to be more punchy, but the only ones who seem to get what Desire in the Suburbs could be are lighting designers Andrew Sporer and Travis C. Richardson, who highlight an urn (that may or may not contain cremation ashes) and the rifle on the wall (introduce a gun on stage, it has to go off – same when someone mentions a heart ailment . . .) and music/sound designer John Dresher who provides commentary with “Carnival of the Animals,” “Funeral March of a Marionette,” and ominous Bernard Herrmann-esque suspense chords. And there’s a subtle, terrific musical joke at the end, with the opening crescendo of the “Theme from ‘The Apartment.’”  As every New Yorker knows, when push comes to shove, it’s always all about real estate, isn’t it?

Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

Copyright 2007 David Mackler

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