The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
The Theatre at Boston Court
Through June 4
Early in Dan O’Brien’s intense and lyrical play, a scene transpires between Dan (Brian Henderson) the playwright’s alter ego, and Skip (Tim Cummings), a childhood acquaintance and the son of his wealthy grandfather’s second wife. Their awkward encounter, after a gap of a couple of decades, takes place as they drive the New Jersey turnpike to the home of Dan’s in-laws. His own parents have departed their house in Scarsdale, New York and moved to Virginia, and they haven’t spoken to him for years.
The purpose of the meeting with Skip, from Dan’s standpoint, is to uncover the roots of the O’Brien family’s dysfunction. A playwright living in Los Angeles, he’s back on the East Coast for the staging of one of his plays in New York, and taking the opportunity to interview various relatives for an upcoming work about their clan. That’s the pitch, he gives people; the reality is that Dan is obsessed with understanding what went wrong between him and his mom and dad, who even declined to come to his wedding a few years back. He suspects a deep dark secret known to others but not to himself, but while his queries to Skip elicit startling answers involving schizophrenic uncles and alcoholic grandmas, they don’t really tell him what he wants to know.
As artfully played by Henderson, Dan’s vulnerability and inner disquietude are visible in every word and gesture. By contrast, the people he talks to, beginning with the loutish Skip, are mostly tactless and dismissive, if not outright cruel (the exception being Dan’s brother Paul, a sad failed suicide). Even the long-lost uncle he pins his hopes for salvation on turns out to have feet of clay. They’re all portrayed by Cummings, who mutates from one to another character with flawless expertise (no props or costume changes involved). The performances together, under Michael Michetti’s direction, make for an impressive pas-de-deux.
The text itself is a dense poetic piece of storytelling with Irish-American trappings. It elicits a kind of sorrowful laughter and will resonate with anyone with a troubled personal past.
The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N Mentor Ave, Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; added performance, Mon., May 22; through June 4; 626-683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com. Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.