REVIEW | Emotional turmoil fuels rich British play
Sometimes there is so much flamboyance and "high concept" in the theater that plays with a quieter, more deeply satisfying emotional richness get swallowed up in all the noise.
British playwright Simon Stephens' "On the Shore of the Wide World," now receiving its U.S. debut by Griffin Theatre, is just such a quiet play, though there certainly is no shortage of emotional storminess driving its characters. The exceedingly gifted director, Jonathan Berry, and his ideally chosen, generation-spanning cast of 10 have homed in on the play's wonderfully crafted scenes, focusing all their energy on a truthfulness and intimacy that grows increasingly magnetic. There is some lovely, thoughtful acting here, full of genuine vulnerability.
At the chronological center of this working-class family from outside Manchester are Peter Holmes (Paul D'Addario), who carries on his dad's business of restoring old homes, and his wife, Alice (Elise Kauzlaric), whose college education was cut short years earlier by marriage and early pregnancy.
The couple had two sons: Alex (Brian Deneen), who recently has fallen for Sarah Black (Lucy Carapetyan), a beautiful, headstrong, troubled girl, and Christopher (Josh Schecter), a mischievous kid recently killed in an accident. Christopher's death is the catalyst for many of the family's already troubled relationships to implode, with Alex's grandparents -- the volatile, abusive Charlie (Norm Woodel) and his timid wife, Ellen (Ariel Brenner) -- caught up in their own problems.
Four "outsiders" fuel the instability as Sarah helps Alex move into manhood, as Alex's old pal (Christopher Chmelik) lures the young couple to try life in London, as Peter's pregnant client (Susan Reynolds) supplies a desperately needed ego boost and as John Robinson (Ian Novak) becomes a most unlikely "suitor" for Alice.
The whole story is played out amid the raw, minimalist beauty of Marianna Czaszar's set -- a battered, once grand hotel slated for demolition, and perfect for secret assignations. Think of it as a broken dream palace in a world where reality is often inescapable.