New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Country House"
Samuel J. Friedman Theater on Broadway

Once again playwright Donald Margulies takes on those human entanglements as characters engage in lively exchanges. His current offering unfolds at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (once the historic Biltmore Theatre) on Broadway. This time it’s all about show biz people, a subject playwrights cannot resist and are certainly qualified to explore.

The story unfolds in the Berkshires, where most of the men and women are involved in the upcoming Williamstown season. Family and colleagues are all bedded down in the country house of Anna Patterson, grande dame of the stage and screen.

Margulies shows off his usual skills, as characters arrive singly, giving the audience time to assess each arrival and absorb his particular history. No long expository passages surface to bore the viewer. In fact, normal revelations unfold—or explode—when called for.

Specifically, the tale revolves around Anna--and how appropriate that Blythe Danner would be cast in the role! Anna, a one-time star (perhaps still a star) is dealing with the inevitable aging process. She has difficulty running lines of a script and accepting lines in her face. Danner is right for the role, it would seem, because it could be her very own story. But the reality is that Danner cannot project those lines, and her speeches no longer reach much beyond the footlights. She looks and moves properly, but what is she saying?

Others in this cast of six are highly competent, and support Danner admirably. And, under Daniel Sullivan’s able direction, there’s never a boring moment.

Yet “A Country House” is not top-notch Margulies. No character is engaging enough to entrap the viewer. Why root for anybody’s cause? And though the central character would appear to be Anna, the drama gradually focuses on her neglected son Elliot (who brings to mind Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya), leaving the viewer emotionally baffled.

But back to the performers: Kate Jennings Grant, Eric Lange, David Rasche, Sarah Steele, and Daniel Sunjata all have their moments in the sun and deliver the goods. And if the viewer finds the characters unappealing, it’s certainly not because of performances.

Even the stage set of the eminent set designer John Lee Beatty is rather tiresome, a rehash of wonderful earlier Beatty sets. Perhaps every one is too tired as they move into later years—Danner, Margulies, Beatty—and even this reviewer.

--Irene Backalenick
October 8, 2014

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