Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Country House
Chekhov's Newest Country Home
Fusion

Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Rob's review of The Diary of Anne Frank


Photo: Bruce Holmes, Laurie Thomas,
and Rhiannon Frazier

Photo by Harrison C. Sim
What can go wrong will go wrong—with a few painful and funny twists. Riffing off of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, Donald Margulies takes The Country House deep into the Russian playwright's playground, including, of course, a country house where a variety of family members gather to tear and poke at each other.

A few years ago, the Fusion group put on another Margulies play, Time Stands Still, which could not be more different in content and feel from the The Country House. Time Stands Still told the story of two war correspondents working to heal wounds that can't be healed. The Country House deals in complex family relationships—which also cannot be healed—and he tips the tensions into comedy.

The set-up is high sitcom. Anna (Laurie Thomas) is hosting a family reunion a year after the death of her daughter Kathy, from cancer. Anna's son Elliott (Bruce Holmes) lives in the home. Visitors include Kathy's daughter Susie (Rhiannon Frazier), Kathy's husband Walter (Paul Blott), Walter's new fiancée Nell (Jacqueline Reid), and Michael (Ross Kelly), a family friend and handsome movie star. The family makes its living in showbiz, whether it's theatre or film.

Nobody is over Kathy's death except Walter, who is delighting in his new love for Nell. The family resents Walter and Nell. To complicate the reunion, Nell is Elliott's former flame from years ago when they were both acting in summer stock. Elliott, of course, has never gotten over Nell.

The parallels to The Seagull are clear, though not quite as explicit as in Stupid Fucking Bird, Aaron Posner's recent take on The Seagull, presented by Fusion earlier in the season. Stupid Fucking Bird was pretty much blow-for-blow, while The Country House trades in the same characters and resentments while diverting the plot.

It's great to see contemporary playwrights pick up Chekhov in a way that suggests Chekhov hasn't quite been digested yet. Interestingly, both playwrights hone in on the comedy in the characters' desperation, and both playwrights focus on the emotional fireworks bursting from the Konstantin (Elliott) character, the ne-re-do-well wannabe playwright who tortures his family by reading his self-indulgent and amateurish script.

The play's strength is its humor. Again and again it tips into farce, and then tips back into smart-funny. All of the characters have their high drama moments, but we don't really care. It's the hilarity of their desperation that keeps the show lively.

Director Gil Lazier has assembled a fabulous cast. Many of the Fusion's big hitters are here, with Thomas, Reid, and Holmes acting and Lazier directing. While the play suffered some harsh criticism from The New York Times and Variety a couple years ago, it's actually a pretty solid story. In the Fusion production the acting is just delicious. We get another strong performance from Reid, who's a completely different human being in each role. Holmes brings warmth to Elliott, which saves the character from being annoyingly acerbic. Blott and Thomas are both excellent. Kelly mostly has to just look good, and he does it well.

The emotional center seems to be Susie. Her grief over her mother's death is pure, unencumbered by her own needs or conniving plans. She just hurts and wants to be with her family remembering Mom. The drama in the house thwarts this simple need. Newcomer Frazier well captures Susie's innocence and pain.

This is a turn away from Chekhov, who usually finds a way to pinpoint a character's selfish motives hiding beneath the surface. In Chekhov, a character like Susie is a sap. But in Margulies' play, Susie is sharp enough to go toe-to-toe with her emotionally brutal relatives while remaining sincere. She just misses her mother. This wins her the heart of the play, and Frazier delivers this deftly.

The Country House by David Margulies is directed by Gil Lazier for Fusion. The play runs at the Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, Thursdays through Sundays, ending on Saturday, April 29, 2016. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 pm. There is a Saturday afternoon performance at 2:00 pm. On Sunday, April 30, there will be a pay-what-you-wish performance at the Kimo Theatre at 7:00 pm. For reservations, go to fusionabq.org or call 505-766-9412. For the KiMo performance, go to KiMotickets.com.


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