By Lucy Thurber. Directed by Caitriona McLaughlin. (CLOSED)
FULL DISCLOSURE: Critic-O-Meter contributor Isaac Butler designed the sound for this production.
Samantha Soule gets universal praise for the physically and emotionally (and, in some critic's opinions: thankless) part of Lizzie, a PhD student whose abusive, rural past comes tumbling into her Manhattan apartment, threatening to upend her new life. Her brother Jeff and childhood friend/ex-boyfriend Danny need Lizzie to aid and abet their recent off-stage crimes. The violence that erupts earns fight choreographer David Anzeulo multiple plaudits. Most reviews also applaud the commitment and dexterity of the direction and acting, but often as a counterpoint to Thurber's script, which, though gripping, leaves some critics wondering if the terrifying provocation is worthwhile. We also find some interesting disagreement about Thurber's tonal shifts: the Village Voice makes an admiring comparison to Sam Shepard, but Time Out New York finds the heightened and realistic elements out of balance.
Village Voice A+
(James Hannaham) Lucy Thurber has given her excellent, gripping, and ambitious-yet-short Killers and Other Family a subtitle: "A play that functions as a waking nightmare." Fortunately, that description is misleading—the play's social awkwardness and violence ring utterly true, and its dips into surreality successfully intensify the drama ... Thurber's bracing, streamlined drama recalls Shepard or O'Neill, but spares us the former's image-making and the latter's verbosity. The nearly perfect cast can only barely restrain the play's wild heart.
Talk Entertainment A
(Oscar E. Moore) The acting is of the highest caliber. As all four actors embrace their roles totally we begin to get so involved (the hour and a half flies by) that they are no longer actors but those characters in a very nasty situation. Shane McRae especially is someone to fear. One look from him and you jump ... Aya Cash gives a tense, contained and most wonderfully vulnerable performance. But it is the main character of Lizzie that we see evolve from the calm and controlled person that she is trying so desperately to be to the almost manic and desperate person that she becomes in the presence of her past. It’s a wonderful nuanced performance given by Samantha Soule.
New York Post B+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) This is thorny stuff, and Thurber tries to juggle too many themes. But there's also a sharp, ambitious intelligence at play here, and under the direction of Caitriona McLaughlin, the young cast handles it with aplomb. Cash and Soule, in particular, fearlessly throw themselves into the show's daunting physicality. As the actors take their bows, flushed and disheveled, you're left feeling emotionally battered yet intensely alive.
(Kristin Skye Hoffman) ... the director, Caitriona McLaughlin, and the actors have masterfully created four characters who have completely different rhythms, are always interesting, and whom we somehow care about despite their despicability ... Frequently actors can be swept into the soap-opera-like drama that Thurber's script offers, and Cash avoids it beautifully ... Although Thurber's script seems overly cathartic, somewhat childish at times, and didn't give me a truly lasting message to take with me, the dialogue is strong and the characters are well written. The acting in this piece is worth a trip to theatre to witness the latest Rattlestick has to offer.
Theatre Mania B-
(Andy Propst) McRae makes Danny captivatingly sexy and feral ... Similarly, Soule seamlessly navigates Lizzie's complex relationships with her brother, old friend, and partner, as well as the twists and turns in Lizzie's behavior as her old life and new life crash together. It's an enormously powerful and deeply moving performance. Director Caitriona McLaughlin's fine work with her ensemble -- which includes solid and often affecting turns from Eaves and Cash -- is to be commended. The characters' often unpredictable behavior never seems unnatural, which helps immensely in mitigating the sometimes formulaic nature of Thurber's play. At the same time, though, McLaughlin's ültra-naturalistic approach to the material makes some of Thurber's absurdist flights difficult to accept ... As with the flourishes in Thurber's writing, [some of the] design elements don't gibe with the overarching realism of the production, and as a result, Lizzie's journey to her past and through her present never fully convinces.
(Marilyn Stasio) [B]y withholding all signs of humanity from these brutes, Thurber makes us wonder why someone doesn't just call the cops on them. That said, Caitriona McLaughlin helms a well-cast ensemble through a muscular production for Rattlestick ... There's a good bit of talk in this play -- and with the exception of Claire's wishy-washy dialogue, the sound of it is raw and authentic. But little of significance gets said. It's left to the physical signifiers to carry the story.
(Adam R. Perlman) The play lands as little more than a formal exercise in discomforting the audience—and it would be an unsuccessful exercise were it not for the bold, physically wrenching performances of Samantha Soule and Aya Cash ...
Thurber's dialogue is well-worn reunion material. People remember shared songs and routines. They drink to evade, then they drink to release. The familiarity of it makes for a decent contrast with the ensuing violence, but it also makes for a lot of boring chatter.
Time Out New York C-
(Helen Shaw) ... in Killers, Thurber’s usual skill at braiding the heightened and the realistic has frayed ... Throughout, the production’s strengths work against it. Director Caitriona McLaughlin drives everyone to a fever pitch, Soule maintains an hourlong freakout, and John McDermott’s set is picture-perfect. But the realism only makes the lyricism seem ridiculous (does backwoods brute Danny really want to “hear a story” while raping someone?), and the show can’t survive the juxtaposition. The tonal seesaw gets worse as the stakes rise.
Curtain Up D+
(Elyse Sommer) Whatever the changes in the script and the staging (the loud music is toned down, the set though a bit too bright and cheery is an effective visual warning not to take first appearances at face value), Killers and Other Family is still more a case study in psychotic behavior and neurotic neediness than a truly satisfying play ... While the cast and the director are to be commended for maximizing the play's tension, this production ultimately doeslittle to alter my original opinion. I'm therefore continuing this review with a re-post of my original take, followed by the current production notes.
Village Voice A+ 14; Talk Entertainment A 13; NYPost B+ 11; Nytheatre.com B+ 11; TheatreMania B- 9; Variety B- 9; Backstage C 7; Time Out New York C- 6; Curtain Up D+ 5. TOTAL: 85/9 = 9.44 (B-)