Linor

I’ve never heard of or seen this show before, and I don’t really have any connection to Curio.

Lola

I read the show once in undergrad and saw the movie once upon a time and those performances are super iconic. I really enjoy the folks at Curio and know a lot of people onstage, but I haven’t seen much there. I was excited to read about their efforts to pick shows that get more ladies in more good parts this season! That is an issue with this company that has been pointed out a number of times. 

 

Linor

Yeah, I agree, I think it’s great, and I’m also glad that that initiative didn’t lead them to the same commonly-produced plays by women, and that I was seeing a play by a woman I hadn’t heard a lot about.

 

The Take-Away

  • Enjoyable performances

  • Safe directing choices

  • Uneven design

  • Underdeveloped themes

 

Design

 

 

Linor

The only design element that really stuck out to me was the lighting – I actually was confused about time of day a couple times. The lighting didn’t seem to match the time of day the characters were mentioning. I kind of thought we were at a dusky evening the whole show, and so was alarmed whenever one of the characters would say “Good morning!”

 

Lola

There was that one sunset cue in Act II that was cool, but the whole design was so purple. I know the exact moment you’re talking about. Meg comes in “late at night” but late at night looked exactly like the lawyer walking in “early in the morning.” 

 

Linor

Yeah, those discrepancies took me out of the piece a little bit.

Lola

Damien Figueras is super talented and his sound helped set the mood at intermission and pre-show, but there wasn’t much else for him to do.

 

I was confused by Aetna Gallagher’s costumes. I didn’t feel time or place and, of the three women only Lenny’s felt like it fit with the character and time period. Babe’s outfits were especially confusing. 

Linor

They were so infantilizing! I know she’s supposed to be young but she felt creepily too young.

 

Lola

She’s 24. I think Gallagher’s intention was for her to look like a child who grew up too fast and was still trying to fit into her kid clothes…. but this solution was unflattering. The barrettes were a lot.

Linor

I could not see Doc’s face through his hair and mustache. It was incredibly distracting. Although I will say that the lawyer’s clothes were perfect for the period, and I enjoyed his suit with the bell bottom pants.

 

Lola

His too tight pants. He looked great.  I say it always: Paul Kuhn is the most underrated set designer in town. Period. This wasn’t his most inventive but it was sturdy and clean and clever. His attention to detail is amazing. In a kitchen sink drama, the sink worked!

 

 

Linor

Yes, that was something I deeply enjoyed. I agree that it was sturdy and clean, but as always with these kinds of dramas, I wonder what the balance is between realistic, feasible design and attention to dramaturgical detail. Obviously Kuhn can’t build a house in that space, but it felt like he tried to build as much of a house as he could, instead of making intentional choices about what parts of the set would bring us into the reality of the story, and what parts of the set the audience would have to fill in themselves. If you’re doing a realistic drama and don’t have the budget to build a realistic set, then it shouldn’t hover halfway between realism and suggestion. It ends up feeling uneven to me.

Lola

He built a house for The Birds. It was next level. But I see what you’re saying. For example it did feel like the stairway was an afterthought and the acting style didn’t match the abstraction. Symbolically I guess there were no doors because people can just walk in and out of the Magraff’s life, but that might also be a stretch.

 

Linor

Sure, and it’s not that I don’t love that potential symbolism, I just don’t love that parts of the set are symbolic and parts of it are very realistic.

 

Direction

 

Linor

Director Gay Carducci kept me engaged throughout the life of the piece. The only place that felt rocky to me was right at the beginning. I don’t know if Rachel Gluck (Lenny) wasn’t fully dropped in or if the moment hadn’t been given its full due in rehearsal, but I actually didn’t feel like I got a strong sense of place from the direction.

Lola

Gay Carducci is smart and I thought the direction was gentle and efficient. You could see a steady hand was in charge and I never felt like the play was going to get out of control, which in some ways is a shame. 

I felt the actors were overstaged. What was happening onstage felt very controlled, too controlled. Without a present sense of unraveling, this is just a story about some people who do some things and then it’s the end. I knew things were going to be okay from the start. 

Linor

Carducci built a really solid family – the sisters fought a lot but they love each other and will never leave each other. When I read a description of the show as “maladjusted family drama”, that doesn’t really seem to fit this production. I think that Carducci turned up the volume a LOT on this dynamic of cavalier-quirky idea of what it means to have had a family member who was mentally ill. She also made me believe that Meg had a part in the mother’s death. Her reactions were so strong every time someone mentioned it and she kept talking about their father’s white teeth. 

I think maybe it was signaling that Meg herself had struggled with mental illness, but it honestly seemed so over-earned at that point.

 

Lola

As opposed to what the script hints at, which is maybe that finding her mother was what propelled Meg into mental illness.

 

Why This Play Now?

 

Lola

The play doesn’t actually age too well. I’m sure it was shocking in its time, but it definitely feels dated. 

 

Linor

I think it could be relevant if the struggle with mental illness was at the center, rather than Babe’s redemption.  Babe really isn’t someone who feels like they’re under the thumb of mental illness. It could be a lot more subtle and questionable if the biggest question the production grappled with was not “what now?” but “is our family cursed?”

 

Lola

It’s about sensationalism a little bit, right? Babe is all over the headlines for getting back at a man who did her wrong.

Linor

That is what I liked about watching this piece now is that we’re centering some very real issues in women’s lives – abuse, mainly, but that mostly there was this underlying (if underplayed) theme of mental health. I honestly wish so badly that the production had taken that more seriously, because the “am I crazy?” question is so universal and still feels very relevant.

 

Performances

Linor

Babe (Tessa Kuhn) stayed in the safe zone for the entire show.

Lola

I did not understand who Tessa Kuhn’s Babe was. Maybe it’s because, like you said, she played it safe, but I just was confused.

 

Linor

I had trouble understanding Rachel Gluck’s choices at first, but she quickly became my favorite sister because of that nuance.

Lola

Rachel Gluck was connected and grounded and her accent was the most consistent, which is important in talky plays when accents go in and out. Meg (Colleen Hughes) was also good, but I was distracted by the fact that she’s clearly not a smoker.

Linor

Yeah. Definitely a small thing to criticize, but I agree with you, it took me out of the story. Another example where the show was performing itself, rather than living in its truth. Colleen Hughes is very funny – watching her and Rachel Gluck battle it out sister-style made me laugh so hard. Very reminiscent of my own family, especially when the fight is interrupted because company has arrived. A universally frustrating and awkward moment.

Chase Byrd, who played the lawyer, was a joy to watch.

 

Lola

Truly a joy. 

 

Linor

I just wanted to watch him listen to everyone. You can tell a truly gifted actor by how they listen.

 

 

Accountability

 

Lola

I saw the three sisters as representations of Depression (Lenny), Mania (Meg) and Bipolar Disorder (Babe). I wonder if  that was Beth Henley’s intention. I think it’s important to see more stories about mental health on stage, and this would have been very unusual in its time, especially with the focus on women.

 

Linor

There is just the vaguest skimming towards dealing with race in this show.  It felt very 1980s – we’ll talk about it but we won’t necessarily talk about. The black kid who Babe sleeps with – in the show it’s painted as a consensual, blooming relationship, but he’s 15. Babe is 24 when she sleeps with him! Nearly 10 years older than him. It felt like there was a space there that was explored, but it’s more an issue in the script than anything Curio could have done something about.

I do feel like there could have been some urgency in that relationship…because the performance is so safe, we couldn’t feel what a big deal it actually would have been. Here you have a white character in Mississippi in the 70s who’s shot her abusive white husband because he caught her having sex with an underage teenage black boy. And Babe is adamant that she does NOT want this boy implicated or in trouble at all – she really likes him. But because Kuhn’s performance – or maybe the direction – kept it so rosy, I never felt the weight of this issue.

The play is very comfortably white and not very interested in playing with that. I think my larger point is that there were a few ways in which the direction could have made this play actually really pointed and uncomfortable, but it was mostly just cozy and funny. I enjoyed myself, but maybe I shouldn’t have so much!  

Lola

I think you hit the nail on the head. Or shot the husband in the stomach. Whichever grim turn of phrase you prefer.

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