A Good Family
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
At the Lounge Theatre
Through December 20
As with One in the Chamber, a drama which premiered to high praise in 2014, Marja-Lewis Ryan’s latest work revolves around a controversial social issue and its impact on a middle-class American family.
While Ryan’s earlier play dealt with gun control, portraying the nightmare that ensued for the parents and siblings of a young boy who accidentally shoots his brother, A Good Family depicts the chaos and confusion that erupts when the college age son of an average law-abiding couple is accused of rape.
The story begins the day before Christmas with matriarch Sara Sutton (Heidi Sulzman) readying their home for the holiday and so caught up in the mini-crisis of spoiled Christmas cookies – she’d used salt instead of sugar – that she fails to pick up on the uneasy reticence of her son Jack (Alec Frasier).
The reason for his unease is soon revealed: a young woman he’d been to bed with has accused him of sexual assault. The matter has gone to the police, and he must turn himself in by 5 pm that day.
The situation is taken in hand by Sara’s sister Kerry (Lindsey Haun), an insurance lawyer nonetheless savvy enough about criminal proceedings to probe for details and advise Jack (who maintains his innocence) of what to do, which basically is to say as little as possible.
Apart from the insidiousness of the actual crime, rape is a hot-button issue and famously difficult to prosecute if justice is your aim. Many rapists have gone free while some innocent individuals, falsely accused, have gone to jail and/or seen their lives ruined.
Ryan, who also directs, aims to cast a light on the difficulty of ascertaining truth in these matters by having the girl’s story, published in a newspaper, read aloud at various junctures. Jack denies her assertions, and we are left to decide for ourselves whether or not he is culpable.
But whereas One in the Chamber (propelled by a powerful lead performance by Sulzman, who owns the pivotal role here also), was layered and tense and involving, A Good Family has fewer secrets to reveal. Running approximately one hour, it more closely resembles a clipped-from-the-headlines issue play, with the characters and their dialogue in service of the idea the playwright is trying to clarify rather than projecting a unique inner life that would make them independently interesting.
Although Ryan gives a back story to the two sisters — Kerry is supposedly the prodigal one — it never really flies.
Perhaps because he has less to say and has only to focus on projecting the aura of a very young man whose life is about to dovetail into some terrible morass, Frazier delivers the most solid and effective performance.
Sulzman works hard but she’s tasked with a script that has her reiterating the same clueless opinions over and over. The very attractive Haun captures the brittleness of her character but there’s not enough depth, despite a couple of teary moments.
The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; through Dec. 20. agoodfamily.