Williamstown Theater Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 25, 2015
by Jarice Hanson
In "Kinship," author Carey Perloff has mined the mythological story of Phedre to tell a contemporary story of passion, obsession, and power in a compellingly contemporary way. Noted director Jo Bonney sets the tale on a stark stage with minimal furniture, well used to illustrate the dark and light of emotion and impulse, intensified by Philip Rosenberg’s lighting and an edgy techno sound-track designed by Fitz Patton.
On opening night there were some rough moments in the performances, but the talented cast has the intelligence and humor to reach into the core of what makes this show compelling. Cynthia Nixon, as “She,” is the energetic newspaper editor who seems to have it all—a loving family and the type of success promised to women -- but seldom realized. Penny Fuller, her close friend, provides friendship and guidance despite the age difference in the duel archetype of “Friend/Mother.” Into the picture comes Chris Lowell as “He,” the Mother’s son, and what emerges is an unfolding of multiple themes that walk the tightrope of impulse, honesty, and self-deception.
"Kinship" is very much a contemporary play about women in the world today, and it relies on the undercurrents of sexual attraction and power, particularly well communicated by Nixon. Author Perloff gives the actors beautifully crafted sections of dialog, but there are moments of staccato verbiage that fall flat and self-referential language that has characters saying “I hate theatre” while drawn into their own dramas is a device that may amuse some, but was unsuccessful for this reviewer. With time, these actors will find the way to incorporate some of the intentionally clipped language so that it is woven more fully into the fabric of the play. "Kinship" is an intelligent piece with humor and impact. The timelessness of Greek tragedy reminds us that desire often overrules good judgment, and this play may well become a milestone marking the evolution of strong women in contemporary theatre.