Domestic Drama in Epiphany and Chains

Out of Epiphany, at Lincoln Center.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Depending on the bogus narratology expert you’re reading, there are only seven basic plots, or twenty, or – and I like this option best –two. For some reason, that last number seems right to me: as John Gardner (perhaps never) said, every story can be boiled down to either “someone goes on a journey” or “a stranger comes to town.” (Now, if you think of a counterexample, you’re certainly reducing wrong.) Since we live in a bourgeois era, the latter option often becomes “a stranger comes to.” dinner‘, whereupon he upsets the household. Of course, the typical symbolic reference point for the stranger is death, or change, or God—those tiresome, eternal, uninvited guests.

The dinner party in the underdeveloped epiphany now at Lincoln Center Theater has many invited guests and a remarkable absence at heart. Brian Watkins has written a lighthearted, modern tribute to James Joyce The dead, with its general build (a woman throwing a party and inviting her grandnephew and those who wish to speak to him) and its atmospheric reliance on an Irish ballad and snow. in the Epiphany, the great-aunt is Morkan (Mary-Louise Burke), the dingy owner of a magnificent mansion somewhere in the woods, and the grand-nephew is absent. Instead of coming he has his new girlfriend Aran (there is the Stranger!) to make a selection of townspeople who have come hoping to see the Great Man.

Morkan wishes to celebrate Epiphany, although she cannot remember the precise meaning of the festival, nor is she honest enough to explain her attachment to the abstract concept. However, she has bombarded her guests with (unread) emails about games and dances and songs, all of which she should have memorized before arriving. Most of the play consists of absurd attempts to deceive, placate or please her: her old friend Ames (Jonathan Hadary) ends up in a mutilated surprise with a knife in his arm; A hyperactive pianist, Kelly (Heather Burns), tries to improvise through an Epiphany song and fails completely.

Kelly is an odd element on the show – the subject of mean comedy, both about her persona and her music haha so modern it sounds like an actor banging on a keyboard. There are other simple jokes about This Here Newfangled Reality, including darts thrown at veganism and psychiatry (“far from established science,” says David Ryan Smith, who plays the psychiatrist’s husband). The comedy, even when teased by director Tyne Rafaeli, is already a little pale and is further dampened by the setting, John Lee Beatty’s too-gorgeous, too-amazing interior that stretches to cathedral height and into an incredible Blizzard landscape opens . In theory, we don’t know why Morkan dodges every question about her missing sister, but the snow falls and falls outside, and the more we remember our Joyce (“he heard the snow fall faintly…onto all living and dead”), the more less we wonder.

The cast is full of excellent performers, from Hadary and Burke to an underused Francois Battiste as Kelly’s husband, but the conversations Watkins writes for them suggest depth but rarely reach it. Once the characters stop fooling around and settle down for dinner, everyone agrees that there’s a certain fear, a certain loneliness, in modern life; They agree that Morkan’s celebration is valuable as it provides an opportunity to gather. The old ways – carefully undefined – are best, don’t you think? And then Carmen Zilles sings a touching Irish ballad as the mysterious Aran. The best and most impressive lines of the play come here, right at the end. Most of the guests leave and Ames is lost in reverie. “So who are you?” he says as Aran gives him an angelic nod from a small glow. He discovered it as something different, a quiet end to an annoyingly loud piece. Many tracks have strong beginnings and screw up the ending, but Watkins seems to have worked backwards here. He has a beautiful image in mind and he knows who his stranger should be. It’s the part of the dinner he hasn’t quite worked out yet and the message it brings.

In early 20th century drama chains, Dinner takes place at the home of Lily (Laakan McHardy) and Charlie Wilson (Jeremy Beck), a cramped place with a back garden and room for a boarding house. The stranger at her Tisch is that pensioner (Peterson Townsend), a man they thought they knew who revealed himself as a surprising, ungovernable ghost: He tells them that he wants to leave on the same Monday to seek his fortune in Australia. The whiff of vicarious adventure plagues Charlie, who has a long stretch of meaningless work ahead of him, but even after he’s told his friends and family, none other than his lovely sister-in-law Maggie Massey (Olivia Gilliatt) seems to smell it too . In a more predictable, sinister play, these two would be romantic objects for each other, but Baker brushes that aside with growing impatience as the play unfolds. The desire for freedom, challenge and change is not just part of a love fantasy, she writes. You are our birthright.

Elizabeth Baker’s play was the hit of the 1909 season in London. No one had written a Shavian drama about the clerk classes before; From a working woman, a “young girl”, certainly nobody expected one, according to the advertisement. (I know she was 32, thanks to playwright Maya Cantu’s program note.) There had certainly been plays exposing the injustices of class, work, opportunity and caste, but Baker’s chains revealed to her audience what seemed like security – steady office jobs – were traps for the human soul. On revival chains In 2022, when we find ourselves either in the Great Resignation or on the precipice of a new recession, the Mint Theater has rediscovered a treasure from the literary past (this one has delicacy and a sharp lateral emotionality) and reminded us how long The World of Work has been rammed us under her heel.

Jenn Thompson directs a crisply acted and elegantly designed production that includes such clever sentence changes that designer John McDermott should have come out for a round of applause. The move from the Wilsons’ lower-middle-class saloon to the just-slightly wealthier Masseys is structurally cunning (I loved the fireplace that crept onto the stage), but more importantly, it is tell. Why is the blue in one room less opulent than the red in another? Deep within our own nasty lizard brains, we recognize and gravitate towards centuries-old signs of wealth. Comrades, we still have so much inner struggle ahead of us! There is some repeatability chains, and the evening doesn’t fly by, but I enjoy this feeling of tedious progress. Charley tries to keep himself from drowning. He is horrified at how he could hurt loved ones, but still struggles to catch his breath. It seems appropriate that we should feel a little stifled with him: vicarious adventure is all well and good, but vicarious suffering also teaches us something.

epiphany is at the Lincoln Center Theater through July 24.
chains is on Theater Row through July 23.

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