Regional Reviews: St. Louis
However, while the performances and production values are all excellent, the main character, loud and fast-talking Daphna (as written by Joshua Harmon, for a 2012 debut) gradually becomes unbearableeven with as much wit as the outstanding actress Em Piro brings to the role. And I'm certain that's exactly the reaction we're supposed to have. Worse, she has no dramatic payback or revelation concerning all her misdeeds, which raises questions about misogyny in the playwright's intent.
Everything about Daphna mocks her stated goals and ambitions, and worst among these attributes are her own relentlessly bullying conversational skills. Her cousins (gathered together for a funeral) are more and more guarded around her, with good reason. The other woman on stage fares only slightly better: Melody (the delightful Taylor Steward), who is remarkable only for her lovely WASP-y appearance and soft-spoken nature. Between the two of them, they seem bent on setting feminism back 60 years.
Daphna's older cousin is played by Antonio Rodriguez, great as Liam, her opponent in an outrageous and utterly inconsequential death-match over a small piece of jewelry. Pete Winfrey is charming as Jonah, Liam's brother. However, like the other two on stage, he seems to exist solely as a petri dish for Daphna's poisonous experimentation.
The whole show appears to be calculated to generate misery in the audience, although the playwright has tacked-on a little business at the end to suggest a glimmer of humanity in a completely unexpected form, from completely out of left field. Unfortunately, that business does not provide any sufficient thematic antidote for all the unpleasantness that's come before.
Sydney Grosberg Ronga directs, helping Ms. Piro develop and orchestrate tremendous psychological calculation throughout. And the director supports Mr. Rodriguez in his equally powerful reactions of hostility and frustration. But in the end, all of them leave us with nothing but anguish and remorse.
There is, in fact, a "facilitator" scheduled to be available for discussion after each performance. The only other time I've heard of this was for a potentially disturbing film (A Clockwork Orange) shown on a college campus, so consider yourself forewarned.
The run has been extended through December 23rd, 2015. For more information go to www.newjewishtheatre.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers in the US.