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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Public


  Michael Cristofer and Linda Emond/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The political is personal in Tony Kushner’s latest family drama, which delves into the ties that bind – and the lines that divide – the Marcantonio family. Set in their ancestral brownstone in Carroll Gardens, circa 2007, the story deftly captures the many ways in which we inhabit our ideologies – and vice versa.

Gus (the remarkable Michael Cristofer) is the widowed pater familias to three siblings, each of whom bears the stamp of their beloved father, a socialist, union organizer and longshoreman. Pill (Stephen Spinella) is a gay high school history teacher with an unfinished leftie dissertation and an edgy professor of theology (K. Todd Freeman) for a husband. Empty (Linda Emond), his daughter, is a labor lawyer reluctantly preparing for her partner Maeve (Danielle Skraastad) to have their first child. And V (Steven Pasquale) presents himself as a humble contractor, but even he thinks that “Republican” is a dirty word. Despite the family resemblances, none of the kids can figure out why their father is so determined to kill himself – but it’s typical of them all that they decide that he must live or die according to the communal consensus.

Kushner, of course, has an equally good ear for ideological infighting and family conflict, and the two are inextricably intermixed here. The fights range from Pill’s tortured arguments with the object of his infatuations, Eli (Michael Esper), the aptly named Yale graduate and gay hustler he can’t resist, to Empty’s embattled sex/hate relationship with her ex-husband (Matt Servieto), to the third act’s almost ritualistic series of confrontations, in which each child in turn demands an answer from Gus.

But while Kushner deftly reveals the materialist grid around which each conflict is built – Pill is obsessed with the idea of paying for sex; Empty has given away the nest egg with which she and Maeve were going to get alternatively inseminated; Gus, despite his devotion to socialism, is determined to leave his children a literal legacy – it’s never reductive. Rather, Kushner creates a range of responses that, as the play goes on, seem as though they will never resolve. Indeed, while politics is the shared language of this hyperlexic over-intellectualizing family, it’s not fully adequate to examine the intricacies of their personal lives.

Director Michael Greif expertly manages the large, remarkable cast. In addition to Cristofer, Brenda Wehle, as his ex-nun, ex-Maoist sister from Paterson, and Emond, as the child whose fierce passion for the cause and fear of commitment in her own life speak most to her father, are stunning. But though the play’s well (and wittily) observed and often compelling, it’s overlong and sometimes repetitive – with the unfortunate result that the denouement, rather than building to a climax, feels like already-trodden territory. Still, in a play whose ultimate motor is psychological rather than dialectical, that been-here-seen-that feeling may be appropriate. Rather than move forward directly, the play shows the Marcantonio children repeating, reflecting and refracting the patterns they learned at their father’s feet. The specter that’s haunting them isn’t communism; it’s Gus.


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