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Family Play (1979 to present)

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Family Play (1979 to present)
Boo Killebrew and Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell.
Photo by Hunter Canning.

Imagine yourself going to a concert by a gifted pianist, only to discover that the entire evening is devoted to a series of études. Now, these short musical studies can be quite interesting — virtuosic even — but really, can’t we have at least one sonata?

That’s the sort of feeling you might get from attending the world premiere of CollaborationTown’s Family Play (1979 to present), a 100-minute flight through the lives of the sons and daughters of the baby boomer generation, opening tonight at the New Ohio Theatre.

As the title indicates, the work encompasses the time span between 1979 and today, as the many characters represented by the six skillful and engaging actors morph from children, to high schoolers, to young adults, to parents, and even caregivers to their own parents.

Focusing as it does on the collective lives of a generation, there is no plot, and there is no arc of individual character development. Instead, like a series of snapshots, Family Play (1979 to present) gives us glimpses of moments in time, with scene after scene depicting everything from family dysfunction, to sibling rivalry, to friendship and romance, to loss, to changes in social attitudes towards gay and lesbian relationships. These episodes offer up rich tidbits, yet each is a tiny self-contained segment that is gone in a flash as time marches on.

The whole enterprise has the feel of something with roots in improvisation, though the writing is credited to Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Boo Killebrew, and Jordan Seavey. Both Mr. O’Donnell and Ms. Killebrew appear in the play as well, and both very good performers, the latter having a particularly fine-tuned comic timing. The rest of the ensemble — Eboni Booth, Jorge Cordova, Mark Junek, and Therese Plaehn — are quite skilled at juggling the ever-changing roles they inhabit all too briefly before moving on to the next short scene.

Periodically, the action takes a pause between segments while the cast sings a cappella or stops to gaze at an asteroid shower or at Halley’s Comet in the night sky. But overall, director Lee Sunday Evans (who, with TJ Witham, was responsible for co-creating the work with the writers) sets the pace at a rapid clip, as the actors keep moving in circles on and around the platform stage.

If you are an admirer of short-form works (études instead of sonatas), you are likely to enjoy the performances, but do not go expecting a fully developed play, though there is enough good material there to create an emotionally rewarding coming-of-age play should the writers wish to go in that direction.


Family Play (1979 to present)
Through May 16
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, inside the landmark Archive Building, between Greenwich Street and Washington Street in the West Village.
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: newohiotheatre.org