In Your Image
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Johnston
February 12, 2011
Theatre C at 59E59 is a small, intimate black box space—the best kind of venue for seeing gritty, honest new theatre, and the perfect setting for Rob Benson’s In Your Image, a gritty and honest new play.
The tiny Upper East Side space has become a very lived-in old flat in Manchester, England. It is full of newspapers, beer bottles, disposable cameras, empty take-out containers, stacks and stacks of boxes… it appears to have been occupied by what we now commonly refer to as a “hoarder.” (Kacie Hultgren’s set is so detailed and lifelike, you can almost smell the garbage.) The play tells the story of two grown-up brothers meeting in this dirty old apartment to clean up the remains of their father's life—a father who neither of them has seen since he abandoned them 20 years earlier. In Your Image examines brotherhood, fatherhood, and familial duty—and also asks the question “What makes us who we are?”
Benson has written a taut and emotionally powerful script. As in real life, nothing is quite what it seems in this story, and Benson never gives away too much too soon. The pacing of important revelations is just right and the script is peppered with a wonderful humor, which comes out of Benson’s ability to give us real relationships; he paints a very nuanced portrait of these two brothers and their diverging memories, struggles, and connection to a father neither of them really knew.
Benson’s portrayal of Warren, the younger brother, comes off as a little caricatured in the beginning, but eases into a place of realness as the play goes on; and as we learn more about his troubled past and the maladies of his infancy, Warren’s awkward physicality makes more and more sense.
Roger Clark, as older brother Chris, brings so much heart to the show. Under Chris’s tough exterior, Clark shows us a man who is very vulnerable, who means the best and has so much love for his family. Chris is scared—and that fear is so palpable in Clark’s performance—scared of becoming his father, of making the same mistakes his father made, of hurting the people he loves like his father hurt him.
Benson and Clark work extremely well together to show us the many complexities of their relationship as siblings. We can truly see and feel the brotherly love, and all its gray areas of jealousy, dependency, competition, and protection.In the second act of the play, we see their father, Graham, played beautifully by John Michalski, and get a glimpse into why Chris is so afraid of where he came from. Michalski’s Graham is a man content to be alone. He doesn’t need anybody and doesn’t want anybody to need him. He is happy in his filthy little apartment, getting drunk, surrounded by junk. Graham can’t fix his past, and he has closed himself off from the world. There may not be hope for someone like Graham, but I believe that in In Your Image we see that there is hope for Chris. Chris (and his brother Warren, too) may still be able to be the man he wants to be. He doesn’t have to become his father.