nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
March 20, 2011
There’s such an enormous amount of polish to Kin—beautifully designed, deftly directed, thoughtfully acted—that it goes a long way toward masking what a wisp of a play Bathsheba Doran has actually written. It may aspire to cast light on the nature of the families we construct for ourselves in the twenty-first century, but doesn’t inquire into that concept any deeper than the most middle-of-the-road romantic comedy, and not even a particularly contemporary one: a couple comes together and forges bonds between their own networks of family and friends; they build their relationship despite ongoing anxieties and doubt.
The couple, Anna and Sean, who meet through an internet dating site, seem unsuited to each other on the face of it, at least in the opinion of Anna’s friends: she’s an up-and-coming Columbia English professor working on a magnum opus about Keats; he’s an Irish immigrant who works as a personal trainer. Each comes with a complement of friends and family. For Anna, this includes her emotionally volatile best friend, Helena, a struggling actress; her former academic advisor and former boyfriend, Simon; and her somewhat estranged father, Adam, a colonel in the U.S. Army (with her father’s lover, Kay, on the periphery, since Anna herself doesn’t know about Kay). Sean has his family in Ireland—his agoraphobic mother, Linda, and her brother, Max—and an ex-girlfriend, the troubled, alcoholic Rachel, whom he’s still thinking about even though she’s clearly moved on.
There’s something a little too pat about all the characters, though, as if they’ve been constructed from a predetermined set of relationships, personality traits, and tics: “emotionally distant military father”; “depressed, wacky-dressing actress friend.” Only in the barest glimpses do we see any contradictions in these people, any layers. And the play’s episodic quality—it plays out over about seven years, with big time jumps between blocks of scenes—has a nice story-telling rhythm, but emphasizes how little we know these people. Things in their lives, like jobs, change; Anna and Sean’s relationship evolves; Helena and Adam move from suspicion of Sean to liking him—but if the script didn’t tip us off to the passage of time, it would be difficult to sense change or growth in the characters, even as they make crucial discoveries about long-held family secrets.
It doesn’t help that Sean and Anna barely appear in scenes together throughout most of the play; I think this is meant to focus attention on the broader web of social connections around them, and give weight to the crucial moments when we do see them together, but it means the play’s central relationship exists almost entirely in the abstract, Anna talking about Sean and vice versa.
I think the piece wants to be about both the subtle web of relationships we build for ourselves and the beauties of ordinary life—how we fight and fear and fail and yet carry on. And it’s not that it’s not about these things; it’s that it doesn’t really have anything new to say about them. Even its most supposedly significant revelations and discoveries feel slight. Characters discover their parents’ lives were more complicated than they knew. They date people who aren’t carbon copies of themselves, and yet find things in common. A friend is slow to accept that her friend’s partner is a really nice guy.
It’s certainly a pleasant enough evening—and often a very funny one. Director Sam Gold brings out all the humor and the pathos in the script, and layers or interweaves scenes visually to maximize connections and overlaps among the characters. Many of the performances are wonderful. Laura Heisler, as Helena, makes her sad-sack, confused, and often hopeless character also constantly hilarious. Molly Ward and Kit Flanagan build strong portraits in small parts (Ward as Sean’s recovering-alcoholic ex and Flanagan as Anna’s father’s longtime lover). Kristen Bush and Patch Darragh (as Anna and Sean) both infuse somewhat bland characters with genuine sweetness. But it doesn’t really add up to much.