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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Herd
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Velveteen Rabbit, A Christmas Story, The Musical, Anthony Rapp in Concert, A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday, and Anything You Hear and Only Half of What You See


Maureen Dias Watson, Michael Fleck,
and Patti Davis Suarez

Photo by Mark Gluckman
The emotional responsibility that comes with caring for a disabled child and the incredible hardship it brings is at the center of the family drama The Herd. Rory Kinnear's first play premiered in London in 2013 and is now receiving its Arizona debut from Theatre Artists Studio in a solid production that features a stellar performance by Maureen Dias Watson as the boy's anxiety ridden mother.

Kinnear's plot isn't overly complicated, and a couple of the developments are foreseeable, but it still resonates with a quiet ending that packs a wallop. The setting is Carol's home, where she is preparing for a small family get together to celebrate her son Andy's 21st birthday. Since her husband Ian abandoned her, Andy, and their oldest child Claire many years ago, Carol's life has been entirely consumed with arranging and coordinating the care of her son who is severely disabled and lives full time in a care facility. The other party attendees include Carol's parents, Patricia and Brian, and Claire, who has also invited without asking her boyfriend of a year whom no one in her family has met. As the party guests await Andy's arrival, it is revealed in a series of smartly written monologues and scenes, the strain and toll that fighting for Andy's most basic needs has taken on Carol and the rest of the family, and the fractures it has caused in some of their relationships. When Ian appears for the birthday celebration, even more gas is thrown onto the combustible fire of this family.

Kinnear used his experience of having a severely disabled older sister as a basis for his drama, which brings realism and a rich truthfulness to the dialogue and scenes. Director Judy Rollings achieves beautiful, rich performances from her cast and keeps the pacing of the 100-minute one-act play sharp.

The Herd features several meaty roles, especially for the three women in the cast. Maureen Dias Watson is simply superb as Carol, a strong woman who has let her love for her son completely consume her, putting a burden on her relationships with the other members of her family. From Watson's deeply reflective facial expressions and her emotion-filled line delivery we see the impact that the constant pressure and concern over Andy's health has had on her character. This is a woman whose life didn't turn out the way she thought it would and the struggles and obstacles she has been forced to deal with have taken their toll. Watson's direct and focused line delivery and the raw, adept honesty and empathy she brings to every moment she is on stage makes her portrayal of this woman who is almost self-destructive in her possessiveness one of the best stage performances I've seen in a long time.

Amanda Melby and Patti Davis Suarez are very good as Claire and Patricia. Melby does well in demonstrating the resentment and anger Claire still feels toward her father, making us believe it may have greatly impacted her ability to have an honest relationship with her boyfriend Mark. Suarez is adept as Patricia and gets some of the best lines, delivering them in a refined way, whether they are comical or full of venom.

The men don't have as much to do in the piece, which is one of the play's shortcomings, as while the women are written as nuanced, three-dimensional individuals, the men, while realistic characters, come across as underwritten and more of a second thought, with all of them taking a backseat to the much stronger female characters. Michael Fleck is full of warmth as the upbeat, joyful Brian who is prone to deliver Shakespearean prose and sage advice. The love that Brian and Patricia show toward each other, Carol, and their grandchildren is palpable. Al Benneian does well as Ian, a man who at first seems to be more interested in eliminating his guilt than rekindling his past relationships, and Brady Weber is charming and kind as Mark.

The Herd is a smartly written and provocative drama that features truthful observations and realistic characters. Theatre Artists Studio's production highlights a talented cast and clear direction that solidly demonstrate the hardships that people who are dedicated to coping with loved ones with disabilities must face.

The Herd at Theatre Artists Studio runs through December 18th, 2016, with performances at 4848 East Cactus Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120

Written by Rory Kinnear
Director: Judy Rollings*
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston

Cast:
Carol: Maureen Dias Watson Claire: Amanda Melby* Patricia: Patti Davis Suarez* Brian: Michael Fleck* Ian: Al Benneian Mark: Brady Weber

*Member, Actors' Equity Association


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