Two Thirds Home
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 23, 2007
Two Thirds Home, a new play by Padraic Lillis that's being presented by Broken Watch Theatre Company, is impressive in every way. Laura Jellinek's cozy family room/den set is instantly familiar, appropriately detailed, and filled with important clues about the people and events we will encounter in the story. Rebecca Lustig's costumes and Joshua Rose's lighting and sound are spot-on, lifelike yet evocative elements that enhance the proceedings without ever calling attention to themselves. Giovanna Sardelli's direction is the kind that a naturalistic play like this one requires, i.e., it's completely invisible.
The three actors—two of whom seem to have mostly regional credits on their full resumes—are all new to me and all outstanding. Ryan Woodle plays Michael, a man in his early 30s whose mother has died; he has just finished delivering the eulogy at her funeral and is now, as the play opens, letting himself into her house, where he will gather up files and papers as quickly as possible, so that he can get home to his wife and young son. Aaron Roman Weiner plays Paul, Michael's younger brother. He arrives just seconds later, with duffel bag in hand; he's come in from Chicago for the funeral and his immediate plans are uncertain. Weiner and Woodle create the chemistry of brothers with splendid facility, and in this they're helped immeasurably by Lillis's dialogue, which provides them with the easy give-and-take, underlain by decades of common and unspoken history, that makes their relationship utterly convincing. At one point, the play's third character gets concerned when they actually come to blows. "I don't want any fighting in this house," she says. "We're not fighting—we're brothers," replies Paul. That's Two Thirds Home at its very best.
Now I need to introduce you to this third character. Her name is Sue, and she is the lover of Paul and Michael's late mother (Peggy J. Scott plays her commandingly). At some point, we discover, Anne (the mother) divorced her husband and then subsequently met and fell in love with Sue. Michael is hugely resentful of her. Paul likes her (in one of the play's loveliest scenes, he and she share some touching moments bringing one another up to date about aspects of their lives with Anne that the other didn't know much about; again, terrific writing from Lilis).
The stakes in Two Thirds Home are enormously high. Michael needs to confront a passel of ghosts/resentments from his past; he'd rather turn his back on Sue and retreat into the safety of his own young family. Paul, who is something of the family screw-up (he's a poet who has worked for most of his adult life in a coffee shop), has conflicted feelings about coming home: he's guilty about not being there when his mother died; he's guilty and embarrassed about his poor financial situation; he's trying to reconcile emotions related to his mother and to her house that he's not yet able to understand or deal with.
Sue, most urgently, is grieving from the loss of her partner of many years, a circumstance made difficult by the fact that Anne was, apparently, at least partly closeted about her relationship. There's also the matter of who gets the house (which Sue lives in; but Michael is the executor of the will).
In fact, all of these challenges eventually threaten to derail Two Thirds Home. There's just too much going on, too much information (both provided and missing), too much to try to sort out and care about. The writing is so compelling and interesting and the characterizations so fine and convincing that I really wanted to get to the root of everybody's problems and see them all through to clear and fitting resolutions. But there's only so much that can be accomplished in a 90-minute play, even one as dense and taut as this one. In the end, too many questions about the characters' motivations linger unanswered, and the outcomes feel neither wholly organic nor entirely satisfactory. Why would Anne, an accountant and, by all accounts, a supremely competent individual, not have made her intentions about the house and the distribution of her estate more clear? Who, exactly, was her relationship with Sue being hidden from? These are just a couple of the practical issues that didn't quite parse for me as the play moved toward its conclusion.
But the experience of Two Thirds Home is nevertheless riveting and emotionally engaging throughout. (It's worth noting, by the way, that this is Lillis's first full-length play: an impressive debut.) The characters, situations, and themes explored here are all deserving, and the execution under Sardelli's assured hand is never less than first-rate. So I wholeheartedly recommend Two Thirds Home as a wonderful if not-quite-perfect evening of theatre; certainly an explosion of acting, directing, writing, and designing talent of a caliber usually just wished for. There's a moment near the end, at least at the performance I saw, when Weiner as Paul untucked his starched dress shirt from his pants before settling into an easy chair—a bit of acting so natural and telling that it took my breath away for a second. This show is filled with moments like that.