It’s a near-immutable law of theater: Beautiful homes harbor ugly truths. And the main setting for Donald Margulies’ wan, all-too-predictable drama Long Lost is a Manhattan dream apartment with great bones, fabulous furnishings and understated, clean lines. So it’s only a matter of time before secrets tumble out of the closets in this Architectural Digest-worthy world of David (Kelly AuCoin), a consultant to the 1%, his wife Molly (Annie Parisse), an ex-lawyer-turned-do-gooder who now runs a non-profit, and their son Jeremy (Alex Wolff), a Brown freshman home for Christmas break.
Spill those secrets do upon the arrival of Billy (Lee Tergesen), David’s estranged big brother who’s not been heard from in at least a decade. That’s by choice: Billy’s the black sheep who’s done jail time, battled booze and drugs, and had a hand in a family tragedy. David calls his older sibling “a chaos machine.” That fits.
But now that “machine” is at a life-and-death crossroad, at least so he says. David reluctantly allows Billy into his home, and right on cue chaos kicks in. When he’s not smoking weed and asking his nephew to join him, Billy is guzzling six-packs and intentionally stirring up drama that affects David’s whole family.
Unlike The Model Apartment, an unsettling play about a haunted family by Margulies, Long Lost surprises because it is so unsurprising. Yes, there are revelations (no spoilers), including one you see coming from the opening seconds, and another you don’t. Even so, there’s not a lick of tension, which makes the between-scene music sound all the more pulpy. The modestly interesting takeaways are reminders of the delicate balance of relationships and that families can have more than one black sheep.
Under the direction of Daniel Sullivan, the author's frequent collaborator, the acting is strong even when the script turns up clichés. Tergesen, known for Oz, is matter-of-fact and measured as the catalyst for catastrophe, while AuCoin and Parisse capture a couple whose cool facades crack when confronted with the past and present. Wolff is very fine as a privileged son who comes to know his parents more clearly and doesn’t like everything he sees.
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club, the production is handsome all around. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes underscore characters, Kenneth Posner’s lighting sets the mood, and most notably, John Lee Beatty’s revolving scenery is mouth-watering. If only the play lived up to the flawless living room.