Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Blood From a Stone, now playing at New Group, 410 W. 42nd St., is a hard, unflinching look at a dysfunctional family.  And, like any real family – but not all stage families, there are honest moments of humor, tenderness and affection mixed in with the more explosive emotions.
Parents Bill and Margaret have been married for at least 30 years, even though their present lives are almost totally disconnected.  They share the same house, but occupy it at different times due to work shifts and their choice.  Gordon Clapp plays Bill, a father with severe anger issues.  But he does not run around in a stereotypical rage.  He tries to keep a lid on it.  His “friend”, the never-seen Delores, takes him to anger management classes.  Margaret, his wife, is played by Ann Dowd.  It is implied that she, like her husband, might be having an affair, and she definitely shares some anger issues.  But her anger is sparked by the mere sight of her husband, and manifest itself as a string of expletives and belittling
Gordon Clapp, Ethan Hawke and Ann Dowd play a combustible family in Blood From A Stone
These two have seemingly found a way to survive through the years, embroiled in constant low level combat, forcing the children to take sides.  It is the arrival of Travis (Ethan Hawke in an outstanding performance) that ratchets up the tension.  Travis and his mother have a conspiratorial relationship; he facilitates her secretive money hording and trash talk about his father.  His arrival upsets the balance of wills between these two married strangers.
These three actors hold the stage the entire time, either alone, with another actor.  Wonderful acting and writing keep these people entirely in the moment, with actions and reactions that don’t feel forced or exaggerated.
Travis, and his brother Matt, played by Thomas Guiry, have both inherited their parents’ temperament, changing from relaxed to furious in a flash for the slightest of reasons.  This is a family that has lived on the edge for years, and they now skip the slow building and go right for the jugular.  Matt has a gambling addiction, and is leaving his wife for a married woman.  Travis has an affair with the married neighbour next door, an ex-girlfriend from school (Daphne Rubin-Vega, burning up the stage in a minor cameo role).  But neither men are Lotharios, they are simply looking for happiness in the manner learned from their parents.
Travis and Matt clearly chose sides in their parents’ feud years ago, and probably couldn’t change now, even if they wanted to. Tentative gestures from their parents are missed in the backwash of remembered hurts.  There is a moment between Bill and Travis where father and son both try to reach across the emotional divide, but cannot connect. A sister, played by Natasha Lyonne, seems to prove the only way to cope with this family is to get some emotional distance from them.  But even she has a problem removing herself completely when her brother returns.
The story sounds grim, but the grace it shows is in revealing the moments of love and tenderness that inevitably pop up.  These flashes of warmth make the anger all the more heartbreaking.
A great scenic design by Derek McLane sets the mood; and the piece is nicely directed by Scott Elliott.  It moves with its own speed, which builds well.  Blood From a Stone is honest piece of theater with characters that stay with after the show is over.
Blood From A Stone
DirectorScott Elliott
PlaywrightTommy Nohilly
CastGordon Clapp, Ann Dowd, Thomas Guiry, Ethan Hawke, Natasha Lyonne and Daphne Rubin-Vega

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