Me, My Guitar and Don Henley
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
October 8, 2006
It's rare to see a truly fresh and touching new play on an old topic: the American family drama. Relationships between adulterous husbands and childless wives, between rebellious teenagers and overwhelmed mothers and fathers, between grown-up children and aging parents, between abandoned pregnant women and irresponsible men, etc. have been explored and over-explored—one could say.
However, Krista Vernoff, the head writer of the TV drama Grey's Anatomy, succeeds in her first play Me, My Guitar and Don Henley to tell a moving story of modern relationships and even to expand the traditional definition of family in a believable and admirable way.
Daughters and moms are on the stage for the entire duration of the show, although they don't interact with each other all the time. Their presence makes lots of sense as the story is told by Leah Powell, a 30-year-old songwriter who tries to moderate and facilitate the communication among the members of her family (remember: in an expanded sense!).
Intelligently directed and intercut by Peter Paige—whom people might know for his five-year run on the Showtime series Queer as Folk—the women on stage make confessions to the audience in direct address, freeze in contemplative positions, talk to each other in passionate and witty dialogues, or just act as observers of other people's scenes. Their stories have always been interwoven because of an absent color-blind man who supplied colors to their lives—Leah's dad.
Tara Franklin, in her debut in New York, portrays wonderfully the leading character of Vernoff's play. Her Leah is sweet and vulnerable, yet strong and vibrant. Stephanie Nasteff (Sarah) and Kaili Vernoff (Janelle) contribute to the intimate energy of this pleasant play, offering energetic and well-tuned performances. Jennifer Dorr White (Isis), a powerful actress, finds the subtle dimensions of her character. Marie Elaine Monti (Sunny) and SuEllen Estey (Judy), two experienced performers, bring nuances and fun to their roles.
The narrative has suspense and spark, it moves fast and it manages to be absorbing and detached at the same time thanks to the delicious sense of humor that spices the dialogue. Vernoff has found an arresting tone that mixes a seductive lyricism with a TV sitcom-ish wit, in a cocktail of delights of mind, heart, and...let's call it "literature."
There are many memorable monologues and lines in Me, My Guitar and Don Henley, they all have both a poetic and a highly dramatic/speech quality, as one can notice in the following sample:
Janelle: I was nine. I was standing in front of the mirror inspecting my hard, sore, little pre-breast bumps. I was convinced I had cancer. There was some movie where a woman found a lump in her breast and then died of cancer and here I was with two of them... Anyway, I'm naked in front of the mirror thinking about asking Mom to take me to the hospital when I hear her calling me from her bedroom. That always annoyed me about my Mom... Now, everything annoys me about my Mom—but... she would yell from her bedroom and no matter where you were in the house or what you were doing, you had to go to her. On Eight is Enough, the mom, or I guess she was the stepmom—Abby, I think—she never yelled across the house. She would knock gently on your bedroom door....
I assume that this play will move to an off-Broadway venue soon, so I urge you downtown-ers to go see Vernoff's beautiful work now at the 14th street Y Theatre. It's bound to be an enjoyable evening for you, your partner, your mom, your dad, your sister, your daughter, and whomever else you call "family."