The description for the Off-Broadway play, The Open House, by Will Eno, states: “Playwrights have been trying to write Family Plays for a long time…They try to answer the question, ‘Can things really change?’ People have been trying nobly for years and years to have plays solve in two hours what hasn't been solved in many lifetimes. This has to stop.” Unfortunately, Mr. Eno has taken this observation to heart as his new work, while haltingly funny at first, leaves the audience wanting more of a resolution by the end of the 80 minute show.
At the onset we are introduced to quite the dysfunctional family gathered in the living room for what is suppose to be a wedding anniversary celebration. The father (Michael Countryman), confined to a wheelchair after a stroke (maybe a series of strokes), is contentedly reading the newspaper and simultaneously ignoring his young adult son (Danny McCarthy) and daughter (Hannah Bos), just in for the occasion, his brother-in-law (Peter Friedman), and wife (Carolyn McCormick) and delivering one mean-spirited bon mots after another at his family members. His bullying, mockery, and sarcasm are alternatingly funny and very disturbing. The children’s uncle (possibly someone with post-traumatic stress disorder), mostly silent and invisible in the background, is the target for most of the taunts. The wife, serene, cheerful, with a dash of passive-aggressiveness, is somewhat oblivious to her husband’s offensive shenanigans. Slowly, events and actions begin to change the dynamics of the group as cast members leave the stage, one by one, only to return in the guise of different characters. It is the latter part of the play, connected, yet disconnected to the first segment, which gives The Open House, overall, an incomplete feel.
Playwright Will Eno provides sharply defined characters that provoke and entertain. He intriguingly sets the stage for what could have been a very interesting production if he kept with his initial group of performers and developed a more user-friendly, traditionally structured play.
The cast is uniformily fine with Michael Countryman giving the most complete and distinctive performance as the thoroughly unlikeable head of the household. Danny McCarthy and Hannah Bos, as the berated and constantly criticized children, are rather one-dimensional, but achieve much fuller portrayals with their second line characters. Peter Friedman stands out in his role as the listless, mostly undemonstrative brother-in-law, convincingly conveying a sense of aimlessness. Carolyn McCormick gives an understated performance as the slightly confused, yet sometimes lucid mother.
Director Oliver Butler, while centering attention on the father figure, organizes a tableaux of nuanced performances that, in totality, paints a distressing picture of one family’s life. He skillfully orchestrates the departure of one set of characters and the introduction of the next in a seamless manner.
The Open House, now through March 30th at the Pershing Square Signature Center on Theatre Row.