Family affairs

The Years

By Cindy Lou Johnson
Directed by Cynthia Dillon
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Shetler Theatre 54 (244 W. 54th St.)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 20)
Review by Elias Stimac

There is a lot of dysfunction going on among the family members featured in Cindy Lou Johnson’s The Years, the latest offering from Oberon Theatre Ensemble. In fact, the bickering and histrionics span several decades -- time changes that result in one of the few innovative aspects of the script. But the fact that the audience sees these characters 16 years later doesn’t provide nearly enough revelation to make the theatrical convention integral or even interesting. The biggest surprise is that one character loses his hair.

Johnson’s decision to start the show with an attack on a young woman might be dramatic, but when the mugger rambles on about his motives the confrontation quickly loses steam. It also doesn’t help set the tone for what is to follow, a Beth Henley-style gathering of a quirky group of cousins, brothers, sisters, and cousins. There is a wedding going on (both then and now) and refreshments and decorations need to be attended to, but most of the family is too busy gossiping or grousing or talking about photography. Everyone seems to be getting cases of week knees, fainting spells, and cold feet. The forced situations and philosophical flights of fancy would make anyone think twice about becoming part of this clan.

The fact that viewers even warmed to these characters at all was mostly due to the hardworking ensemble, who under the competent direction of Cynthia Johnson managed to combine humor and pathos in an engaging and involving way. Laura Siner was intriguingly understated as the robbery victim’s sister who’s going through some drama of her own, and Jarel Davidow also stood out as the comic relief of the group. The other cast members acquitted themselves well in their roles, including Ledger Free, Emily DePew, Karen Sternberg, Brad Fryman, and Mike Yahn.

As far as technical elements went, Beatrice Bass had a difficult time filling the wide stage with worthwhile furnishings, and her choice of brightly hued sofa was particularly distracting. Allison Lepelletier kept the cast comfortable with her costume selections, and Pamela Kupper and Nick Moore added ambience with the lighting and sound designs, respectively.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2005 Elias Stimac