Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Country House ***

Donald Margulies’s new play at Manhattan Theatre Club could well bear the subtitle “Variations on Chekhovian Themes.” Characters and situations from “The Seagull” and “Uncle Vanya” are borrowed, tweaked and conflated to produce a clever mash-up that works more often than not. The action takes place in the Williamstown home of Anna Patterson (Blythe Danner), an acclaimed actress of a certain age who is in town to play the title role in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. For the first anniversary of her daughter Kathy’s death, she is joined by her granddaughter Susie (Sarah Steele), a senior at Yale; her daughter’s widower Walter (David Rasche), a successful Hollywood director who has his new girlfriend Nell (Kate Jennings Grant), an actress, in tow; and Anna’s unhappy son Elliot (Eric Lange), an unsuccessful actor and would-be playwright. The family are joined by a surprise guest, Michael Astor (Daniel Sunjata), a television celebrity who has come to town to play The Guardsman. As a young actor, he had appeared with Anna and had an affair with Kathy; he is still catnip to three generations of women. Eleven years ago, Nell and Elliot had acted together in Louisville, leaving Elliot smitten with unrequited love for her. All this is laid out cleverly in the first act with amusing dialogue. And then things head south. The second act seemed formulaic and the third act, which hews too slavishly to Chekhov, did not offer any sense of resolution. The play is peppered with droll observations on the state of theater and film. The cast are uniformly excellent, John Lee Beatty’s set is luscious, Rita Ryack’s costumes are appropriate and Daniel Sullivan’s direction is smooth and assured. Although the destination was a disappointment, it was an entertaining ride for most of the journey. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission

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