|ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD|
On the heels of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Heisenberg,” British playwright Simon Stephens is one hot commodity. And given his longstanding relationship with the Atlantic Theater, it’s hardly surprising the Chelsea-based company has chosen to open their season with New York premiere of his 2005 work “On the Shore of the Wide World.”
Alas, this meandering, multi-generational dysfunctional family drama proves to be surprisingly tepid in Neil Pepe’s workmanlike production. It lacks both the explosiveness of “August, Osage County” and the elegance of “Downton Abbey.” One ultimately feels the entire enterprise might have worked better had it been expanded and ran as a multi-part TV series, as some major plot elements simply move by too quickly, while others add up to very little.
It helps little that Scott Pask’s drab unit set is asked to fill in for way too many locations, and Pepe might have been wiser to overrule Stephens’ own stage directions, in which many of the scenes are meant to simply blend into one another, but just end up feeling abrupt. (It was actually hard to tell that the play was over!)
Indeed, everything about the production really forces the cast to do all the heavy lifting, and thankfully, they are mostly up to the challenge. Peter Moloney, a longtime Atlantic veteran, is expectedly excellent as family patriarch Charlie, a functioning alcoholic with a dash of charm and a bit of bluster, who treats his long-suffering wife Ellen (the wonderful if underused Blair Brown) poorly.
Still, Charlie proves to be of some help when tragedy strikes the household of his son Pete (C.J. Wilson in a consistently moving turn), a house restorer who connects far more with one of his clients (the lovely Amelia Workman) than he does with his own wife, Alice (a convincing Mary McCann) or their teenage sons: the moody Alex (the very convincing Ben Rosenfield) and the exuberant Charlie (Wesley Zorick). Aware of his faults, Pete is sympathetic (up to a point), but also rather frustrating.
Oddly, the play initially seems like it’s going to be all about the young ones, especially as the first half hour is devoted almost solely to Alex’s relationship with the tough-talking but good-hearted Sarah (a pitch-perfect Tedra Millan). But they eventually fade out of the picture for a large section of the play’s second act, which focuses primarily on Pete and Alice, whose troubled marriage seems on the verge of destruction, especially when she meets an attractive (if also married) quasi-suitor named John (a very fine Leroy McClain).
Still, for all that goes on here, we get very little shouting or crying; there’s some harsh words and rough gestures (not to mention a small dash of John Keats’ poetry from which the play takes its title). Perhaps it’s all very authentic in that the British are more repressive with their feelings than we are, and might have felt more persuasive overseas.
Unfortunately, I suspect that – especially during the play’s duller moments – American audiences will wish they’re sitting on a different shore, or at least in a different theater.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Blair Brown, Odiseas Georgiadis, Peter Maloney, Mary McCann, LeRoy McClain, Tedra Millan, Ben Rosenfield, Luke Slattery, C.J. Wilson, Amelia Workman
Atlantic Theater Company/Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011