nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 15, 2004
Training Wisteria is an uneven but noteworthy post-mortem on divorce and its lingering impact on the family. With a simple but effective set (Blair Mielnik), and marvelous lighting (uncredited) that really does suggest a backyard, director Erin Smiley does a credible and heartfelt job illustrating how a family falls apart as it attempts to move on. It’s a year after math professor Stephen has left the house, and his now ex-wife Lynn has gone into “home improvement overdrive” according to her son Dylan. Yet somehow the house and backyard have fallen into disrepair. Dylan is barely graduating from high school the next day, and Lynn has 24 hours to turn her backyard into a suitable place for a party. While trying to introduce a wisteria plant into the backyard, Lynn praises the plant because “you control how it grows.” Unlike children: Lynn has clearly lost control over Dylan, and has only a tenuous hold on her other two kids, while Stephen barely has any relationship with them at all.
The three children are textbook cases in how kids tend to deal with upheaval: one is “perfect,” one is angry and self-destructive, and one is desperately trying to keep the peace. Kate LoConti does a commendable job playing the shrill, know-it-all older sister Rachel, but at times seems uncomfortable on the stage. Benjamin Sands plays the angry young man Dylan with passion and plenty of angst, but it’s only in the second act where he hits his stride and lets loose all the feelings and emotions he’s been sitting on for so long. Mehera Blum does an outstanding job as Kacie, who desperately wants to hold everyone together and is cracking under the pressure.
Playwright Molly Smith Metzler does not do as good a job creating the parents as she does with the children. Lynn and Stephen’s behavior makes them more cartoons than actual characters, but actors Rachelle Fleming and Andrew Dawson rise to the difficult task and manage to make them truthful and sympathetic.
The father is too easily made the villain of the piece, and it seems that the playwright raises hard questions that seem too glibly answered. Nevertheless, Training Wisteria is an admirable and entertaining look at a family picking up the pieces of relationships gone awry.