The Safety Net
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
September 18, 2005
Brokenwatch Theatre Company’s new show, The Safety Net asks the question, “What makes us who we are?” David, played by Jason Pugatch struggles with this question in the aftermath of his adopted brother’s death. Written by Christopher Kyle, The Safety Net is a brilliant and unwavering look at the issues of American race, class, and family.
Gene, David’s troubled (and adopted) younger brother, has been killed while driving drunk, leaving behind his pregnant and equally troubled African American girlfriend, LaShonda. At first, David wants to make sure LaShonda isn’t trying to make any monetary claims on his parents, but soon he finds himself drawn to LaShonda and her life, which is so very different from his own. First he brings her groceries, then sends his friend Rick to check up on her, and finally sends her money to replace the car his brother wrecked. “You’re family,” David finally tells her. David places his career and his marriage in serious jeopardy as he struggles to bring LaShonda into his life, to “fix” LaShonda, and to reconcile his complicated relationship with his brother, which also means tracking down Gene’s biological mother. While working to create one family, David neglects the other.
As David gets to know LaShonda, he starts to delve into Gene’s life. What made Gene the troubled alcoholic he was? Was it because he was biracial? Or was it the stress of never feeling like he truly belonged to his adopted family? Or was it because he felt abandoned by his older brother? David wrestles with these questions and his own possible culpability as he also faces up to his own uncertain future.
Kyle has written an amazing and unflinching play that deals with difficult subjects in a compassionate and humorous way. Happily, the cast is more than up to the challenge of playing these flawed and fully human characters. Tinashe Kajese gives a gripping performance as LaShonda, as does Eva Kaminsky, as David’s insecure and needy wife Sonya. Caught between these women, Jason Pugatch does a splendid job as David. We can see him try to balance his roles as son, husband, and brother, yet feels wounded when he doesn’t get the gratitude he expects for his hard work. “It’s not me you want to talk to,” LaShonda succinctly tells him. “You want to talk to Gene.” Mark Setlock, Maren Perry, and Peggy Scott round out this wonderful cast with their subtle and finely tuned performances.
Martha Banta’s direction is uncomplicated and she has made her job look effortless. She brings a great play to life, refusing to shy away from the tough questions the material asks of both her and the cast. She clearly illustrates the struggles of families as they try to hold onto their concepts of what a family is, and how feeling safe and loved is a tenuous and fragile commodity.
J. Wiese’s set is absolutely stunning: a simple black stage is turned into a bedroom, an upper-class New York City apartment, and an apartment in a seedy part of Indianapolis, all with the elegant turn of a panel. It’s marvelously inventive, and the lights, sound, and costumes bolster this collage of a family photo album.
Brokenwatch Theatre Company has mined a brilliant gem of a show, one that is not to be missed.