Alan Hawkridge, a director with a diverse theatrical background (and quite a wit, as demonstrated in the lengthy preshow curtain speech), directs The Players’ production of The Country House by Donald Margulies. A theatrical family has come back to their summer home for the annual Williamstown Theatre Festival. A death in the family the previous year and a visit from an old actor friend, who is now a celebrity, causes a mix of drama and comedy.
For such a small theater, the sound and light design is on point, adding a dimension of drama and mystery to what I originally thought the play might be. Terry Shea is a gifted sound designer. The set is perfect, designed by Dan Clement, with a summer-like vibe in old New England style. There was no mention in the program of who designed the lights.
For thespians and directors, the references to the practice of theater will bring chuckles. Likewise, Sarah Quintiliani’s sarcastic and gloomy daughter, Susie, lets loose with snarky comments that will ring true to those of you partnered to actors and directors, but for whom the stage is the last thing you would tromp on.
The characters grow on you throughout the play, the actors seeming to gain their stride in the third act. Newcomer to The Players, Caitlin Buerge, plays Nell McNally, outsider to the family, with honesty and wit. Her boyfriend, Walter, played by David Crosby, starts out as a somewhat pompous old man, and grows more likable in the third act. Trish McManus is well cast, although the character of Anna Patterson is complicated, almost too so, and any actor would have difficulty performing the multiple personalities written into this character. Michael Pugliese plays the gloomy depressed uncle, but it seems overdone. And John Thomas Cunha, while providing excellent comedic timing, doesn’t seem well cast for the dashing and debonair character of Michael Astor, as Margulies has written him.
Margulies’ play itself doesn’t seem to know its point; is it a farce or a drama? There are farce-like scenes, loud family fights and tears. The climax goes on for pages as the family finally confronts their demons, but the sudden final scene, when the family comes together, seems too sudden, like it had to be written to find an ending (much like the new play that Uncle Elliot writes), sparking yet another angry family fight.
Overall, The Country House is entertaining and worth a look. It offers the audience a chance to explore, in some ways, the internal struggles that families avoid until faced with them. Fans of Margulies’ work (Barker explored another of his similar scripts in 2013, Dinner With Friends) will recognize and perhaps feel right at home with this exploration of dysfunction that was certainly well-trodden ground long before he ever got behind a typewriter. Nothing much new here, but when have family dynamics ever really changed?
The Country House runs Feb 1, 7, and 8 at 7:30pm and Feb. 2 and 9 at 2pm. Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit St, PVD. Tickets can be purchased at playersri.org/ticketing