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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Michael Weller Theater

By David Lefkowitz

  Ryan Woodle

A few weeks ago on these pages, I reviewed In a Dark Dark House, a Neil LaBute drama about feuding, middle-aged brothers who have trouble coming to grips with childhood trauma. The piece struck me as false from note one, a construct to stick two characters in a situation, have them alternately reminisce and yell at each other, and then reach an uneasy détente, all against a cheap-looking set that didn't even encompass the entire playing area. Still, I suppose some viewers bought into the scenario, cared about the siblings and wondered how their conflict would turn out.

Was I jaded? Too familiar with family dramas and their usual patterns?

I might have thought so until I had the pleasure of seeing Padraic Lillis'Two Thirds Home. It, too, tells a sober tale of brothers in midlife forced to hash over old ground. It, too, includes the requisite (and marring) family-squabble benchmarks: the punch thrown, the mess made (at least here it's not the standard broken dish), and the characters who have every reason to leave - and repeatedly say so - but stay in the same location for 90 minutes. And yet, this one works.

Siblings Paul (Aaron Roman Weiner) and Michael (Ryan Woodie) return to their childhood home directly after their mother's funeral. Michael, who lives nearby and spent the past year helping look after their dying mom, has taken charge of expenses and organizing her personal effects. Paul, who recently lost a teaching job and ekes out a living writing poetry, appreciates his brother's efficiency while resenting not being told just how sick their mom really was, thus missing the opportunity to return home until it was too late. Still, the brothers' relationship is jovial and warmed by genuine affection.

What cranks up the resentment is the woman mama left behind. Still living in the old house is Sue (Peggy J. Scott), mom's lover, for whom she divorced Paul and Michael's dad. Though accepting Sue's right to grieve, Paul doesn't seem exactly thrilled to have grown up with two mommies. However, that's nothing compared to Michael's simmering rage at Sue for being an unexplained, shadowy presence during his teen years, because his mother never had the courage to announce Sue as her official life partner.

What looks to become a fight over who gets the house becomes a more poignant battle over where each person stood in the life of their deceased loved one. One marvelous scene has Michael explaining to Sue why she has no entitlement to various pieces of furniture that were there long before she came on the scene. How can she lay claim to the chair where Paul used to sit and wait for his father to come home from work? Or the rug, which was bought to replace a carpet stained with blood after the brothers had an accident roughhousing during the Super Bowl? Of course, Sue later counters that all these objects have different but equally emotional associations for her.

Not all of the Broken Watch Theater Company's mounting of Two Thirds Home is so perfectly calibrated. A lengthy chit-chat between Sue and Paul meanders into dullsville, while melodramatic grandstanding threatens the realistic tone of other sequences. Rescuing iffy patches throughout, though, is a robust sense of comedy that crops up at the oddest times - just as it tends to in real-life spats and tragedies. Early on, Paul's story of how he met his latest girlfriend (though it stretches the bounds of credibility) is a hoot, yet surprising laughs emerge often, even on the tail ends of the play's harshest moments.

The stage of the Michael Weller Theater is quite small however, Laura Jellinek's set feels like a real, lived-in living room, and the excellent three-person cast of Two Thirds Home, as directed by Giovanna S


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