New York City Theater
T. Schreiber Studio, Manhattan
In “Better Living” Canadian playwright George Walker mixes absurdism, comedy and poignancy in equal measure. It is family life carried to the outer edges, with every one slightly mad, reminding one of Craig Lucas’ assortment of zanies in “The House of Blue Leaves.” Moreover, the play opens exactly like Terrence MacNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” with the last gasps of sexual orgasms heard off-stage. Whether Walker is the one who influences other playwrights—or the other way around—he is certainly in touch with the dramatic style of the times.
As for Walker’s characters, there is Papa who ran away from the family 20 years earlier, after death threats became all too real on all sides. There’s Mama who busily applies a jackhammer to the cellar floor, adding a room to the house, and refusing to recognize her returning husband. There’s dear old Uncle Jack who conspired with Mama to kill Papa. And finally, there are the three daughters, each of whom has an agenda and a different brand of neurosis.
It all plays out quite entertainingly on the Studio’s pocket-size stage, as they connect and disconnect and reconnect in this dysfunctional family. Performances are uneven, but Page Clements is delicious as the muddled matriarch of the clan—and Luis de Amechazurra is every bit her match as the conquering hero returned. Both are pros to their fingertips, and one feels that the play is under control when either one is on stage. The three daughters, however—Jennifer McGuire, Summer Crockett Moore, and Emily Sproch—are way over the top in their portrayals. If only director Tony Glazer had persuaded them to give more subtle shadings to their characters!
But “Better Living” ends on a nice upbeat note, with Mama making a touching plea for tolerance and with predictions of “better living” to come.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 5, 2006