“LONG LOST” a new play by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Donald Margulies opened this week at the City CenterStage I Theatre on 55th St. with a fabulous cast, impeccable direction, a brilliantly conceived, and executed set, tasteful and convincing costuming, engagingmusic and well supporting sound design. All of this, alas, for a play, and particularly a play by so distinguished a playwright, that evoked few, if any surprises,and remarkably little sympathy, let alone empathy from the audience with whom I attended the Sunday matinee on June 2nd. Neither, my theater companion that day, myself, nor the perfect stranger to my immediate right in the eighth row remained engaged during the roughly 90 minutes sans intermission of this play about a family with an egregiously black sheep, played with convincing authority by Lee Turgesen.
Turgesen’s Billy is the character type that almost redefines the Yiddish concept of Chutzpah, the classic English language translation there being: “One who kills both his parents, then pleads on the mercy of the court on account of being an orphan.” That hyperbolic description comes close enough to the back story of Billy’s character history, and the effect that he has and holds over his brother, David, played with intelligence and sensitivity by Kelly Aucoin.
David, the overtly successful younger brother to the homeless, addicted, and not seen in ten years, older Billy, is at first frightened and shocked at finding the reprobate in his office There is also a physical clue to what is happening in David’s life that is picked up and augmented later in the play. What is clearly stated, however, in the first scene is that Billy is in desperate need of immediate shelter, food, and whatever comfort David, and his family of wife and son during the Christmas holidays can provide the estranged sibling, for besides being homeless and hungry, Billy states that he’s dying of cancer.
Into the extremely well-furnished home, revealed by this smartly revolving set, where Billy immediately takes control not merely of the television remote, but also the full attention of at first, Jeremy, a cleverly credible Alex Wolff, home for the holidays from his first year at prestigious Brown University. All of near 19, he’s not seen his uncle since the funeral of his grandparents whom Billy had more than a little hand in their untimely demise. He then comes home from a fund-raising gala that David’s wife and Jeremy’s mother, Molly, (a fetching, brilliant, and sharp-eyed Annie Parisse,) organized. Molly cannot get Billy out of their home too soon and for more than one good reason.
What ensues, no spoiler alert, frankly, as intimated earlier, are not exactly surprising, let alone shocking,which one way or the other can be supposed to be the author’s intent. I found one touching moment, in the last scene between uncle and nephew when an entreaty on the former’s part to the latter for further communication, under their specific acknowledged circumstances, was recognizably vulnerable and deeply human. Kudos to this cast once again and their director for evoking all they could, but if ever Hamlet’s summoning up of his act two of, “The play’s the thing”, it is this disappointing piece from a talent who has given us the rewards of his Pulitzer Prize winning “DINNER WITH FRIENDS”, as well as multiple finalist for that prestige with “SIGHT UNSEEN”, and “COLLECTED STORIES”, to name but a few of several recognized works of high praise. That I am, in good conscience, consigned to reserve such praise merely for the mounting rather than the mounted, brings me no joy, but rather the earnest hope that I can look forward to works from Mr. Margulies far closer to the strengths of his potential.
All Photos © Joan Marcus, 2019
For a limited engagement at City Center, Stage I ,at 131 W. 55th St, Manhattan, NY.