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Albuquerque
Regional Reviews

The Curse of the Starving Class
Vortex Theatre

Also see Dean's reviews of Is He Dead? and Gaslight


Alex Wasson, Catherine Hughes and John Wylie (on table)
The Curse of the Starving Class, by Sam Shepard, is currently playing at the Vortex Theatre. This play is a family drama that explores, among many other things, hope in the face of impossible odds. Although this play is a tragedy through and through, it is not without its comedic elements. And it is this exact juxtaposition that makes this play a whole experience that is worth seeing.

The story is that of the Tate family and its dysfunction and the troubles that that dysfunction brings upon every member of the family. Not one character is exempt from an eccentricity that one way or another grates on every other character. Yet what we see in this dysfunction is a family of people who love each other. Granted, it's not that this love is perfectly expressed, nor does it always find open arms to be received in, but it's there nonetheless and that makes all the difference.

When I first read this play a couple months ago, I saw in it only a bleak and desperate defeat, a horrific tragedy. Yet, after having seen Lauren Albonico's production, I can say that I see it in a new light. In her director's notes, she says that, among other criteria, she looks for plays to direct that contain hope. Admittedly, it is hard to see at first, but when we really start exploring each character, we see a fierce hope that refuses to die despite the constant threats against it.

The comedy exists in the characters' eccentricities: the father's alcoholism, though destructive, is so obnoxious that it becomes funny; the mother seems to have reached a point of exhaustion with her husband so that she's resigned about most everything, and this lends itself to some funny situations; the son's sarcasm and the daughter's ferocious and explosive personality also have their comedic elements. Through the combination of each character's unique contribution to the whole, we find a dynamic and enthralling family unit. And even if it's a train wreck from the outset, it is something you don't want to look away from. It is as though each character's hope becomes instilled in you, and the conflict that arises in the play consequently grows inside of you and there lies its strength as a story.

All cast members play their characters quite convincingly. The best performance of the night is that of John Wylie as the alcoholic father. Caroline Graham is also very powerful on stage as the daughter Emma. Catherine Hughes offers a delightful performance as the mother Ella. Alex Wasson plays Wesley, the son, which I think is the hardest role in the play. It becomes clearer towards the end but it is Wesley's story. Alex, nevertheless, pulls through exceptionally.

The production is a great feat as well, as the play could be difficult to put on because it has some interesting challenges, having a live lamb on stage being but one. However, Mary Rossman along with Katie Farmin do a great job of bringing the set and the props to life, overcoming with an artistic finesse all the obstacles presented.

Overall, this is a great production. It is relevant, beautiful, affecting and enthralling. Be prepared for laughs as well as tears as the play evokes both without pulling any punches. I would not recommend this play for young audiences as there is strong language and adult content. I would recommend it to the general Albuquerque theater audience as I think it's an important play that does not get produced very often.

The Curse of the Starving Class plays at the Vortex Theatre through October 20 with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2. Tickets are $18. More information is available at the Vortex's website.


Photo: Alan Mitchell Photography

--Caleb Scales



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