Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The title Two Mile Hollow refers to the beachfront estate in the Hamptons owned by uber-wealthy Blythe Donnelly. The family is gathering one last time as Two Mile Hollow is about to be solda familiar trope in plays, films, and prime-time soap operas. The family members are Blythe's daughter Mary and her two stepsons Joshua and Christopher, the children of her late husband and Oscar-winning movie star Derek Donnelly. Is this brood dysfunctional? You might as well asks if Smurfs are bluedrama of this ilk would not exist without dysfunctional families. What puts a spin on this tired set-up is that, though the family is clearly meant to be white, they are played by actors of color, their whiteness indicated by wigs, by their ingrained sense of privilege, and their unthinking racism.
Blythe is a shrewish, haughty pill-popper whose default setting is venomous. Joshua is fixated on being a Yale grad, though he has accomplished absolutely nothing with his education. When not drinking he sulks about in Bermuda shorts and a sweater tied around his neck, like a J.Crew ad. Self-loathing Mary fades in and out of touch with reality in expensive looking but mismatched clothes, often imagining having the life of a bird. Only Christopher has had any success in the real world, playing the lead on a TV show. Hollywood success has made him a cad, his fitted shirt showing off his sleek torso, and as self-absorbed and unfiltered as the rest of family. The four of them have constructed a nest of resentments, secrets, and inappropriate desires. The only real feelings they express are in the form of quotes from Chekov, Tennessee Williams, or any other author with a gift for despair.
Into this tawdry gathering comes another familiar trope: the interloperan outsider of a different class and raceto raise flames from the Donnelly's glowering hot coals. Enter Christopher's personal assistant, Charlotte, bright, highly competent, and of unspecified ethnicity. No matter that, as far as the Donnellys care, her ethnicity is Not-White. She views herself as an aspiring professional; they view her as "the help."
The above description could apply, in broad terms, to many a treacly drama. Of course, Two Mile Hollow is a comedy, but only because it takes all the familiar elements of such a drama and stands them on their head. The four Donnellys behave so abominablythe rivalry between Christopher and Joshua, so juvenile, Mary's self-negating quirks so bizarre, and Blythe's dragon-lady shtick so beyond the palethat they take the tone of sketch comedy, their accusations and declarations stripped of any heart, comical by virtue of being nothing more than lines emanating from their privileged positions, not from any actual needs or feelings or values. Charlotte tries mightily to be an actual human being among these craziesand what are the odds of that working out?
Director Randy Reyes has stirred up all of the subversive mischief in Winkler's script, making the synapses between these characters spark with scorn, while making it plain that to care about these buffoons' troubles would be a waste of real people's timeexcept that these buffoons somehow ended up holding society's purse strings.
A cast of excellent actors inhabit these roles, led by Sun Mee Chomet as Blythe, chewing up the scenery like a rabbit in a cabbage patch. Sherwin Resurreccion from time to time hints at a real person within the self-pitying overaged adolescent Joshua, and Eric Sharp has found his inner peacock as the preening, vain, and spoiled rotten Christopher, who admits he has no filters because of "the fame thing." Katherine Fumie portrays Mary as someone who wandered in from another family, so ill at ease is she among these people, though, we come to realize, she is basically ill at ease with her own life. Hers is the one character one can pity, which also means she is the one hardest to laugh at.
Meghan Kreidler as Charlotte is in an entire other class, as she plays a real person rather than a caricaturean Alice who landed in a bizarre Wonderland. Kreidler displays Charlotte's intelligence, poise, earnest ambitions and strength. As the person of color in this story, she is the truth teller, the one who sees through the charades and pretense of this family who, if not for their money, would be struggling to stay afloat in a world where skills and good behavior are required to pay the rent.
Joseph Stanley's set design cleverly depicts the sprawl of Two Mile Hollow, with a patio and garden area intruding into the audience, as if making the point that their whims and comforts take precedence over ours. Joanne Jongsma has designed spot-on costumes, with Charlotte's tight, short skirt and midriff knotted blouse indicating an earthiness, though her behavior is elevated far above the more expensively clothed Donnellys. Karin Olson's lighting is well matched to the tone of each scene, and especially well conceived for a scene during a power outage. Lightning and thunder (courtesy of Anita Kelling, sound designer) comically occur along with key dramatic events, as if the tawdry affairs of the Donnellys have the attention of heaven and earth. Keith Hovis has composed melodramatic theme music that would do a 1950s tear jerker proud, along with an unexpected but well placed musical number.
The ploy of having actors of color portray the abominable and avowedly white Donnelly family is an interesting choice. As a white reviewer, I look at them and say, yes, they are despicable, but not because they are white. They represent the worst of the one percent, protecting their rich and famous lifestyle at all costs. So what is the purpose of this gambit? If it is to get audiences to think about the roles that areand are notavailable to given individuals, and given communities, in theater and in life, Winkler has succeeded. Moreover, are there certain roles in our social landscape that should be played by no one? Color notwithstanding, is there any societal value in perpetuating the Donnellys and their ilk? Two Mile Hollow's recipe of biting satire and sophomoric humor leaves plenty of food for thought on the table.
Two Mile Hollow, a co-production of Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre, continues through March 4, 2018, at the Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. Fourth Street, Minneapolis MN. Radical Hospitality tickets are free at the door two hours prior to performances. Tickets purchased in advance are $25. Access Passes guarantee complimentary seating and transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities and their companions. For advance tickets and Access Pass information call 612-338-6331 or go to www.mixedblood.com. For information on Theater Mu go to www.muperformingarts.org.
Playwright: Leah Nanako Winkler; Director: Randy Reyes; Set Design: Joseph Stanley; Costume Design: Joanne Jongsma; Lighting Design: Karin Olson; Sound Design: Anita Kelling; Props Design: Abbee Warmboe; Composer: Keith Hovis; Technical Director: Trevor Muller-Hegel; Stage Manager: Raul Ramos.
Cast: Sun Mee Chomet (Blythe), Kathryn Fumie (Mary), Meghan Kreidler (Charlotte), Sherwin Resurreccion (Joshua), Eric Sharp (Christopher).