Grote begins with a middle-class Jewish family living in the New York and Philadelphia suburbs, but he soon moves past the realistic into the surreal with the appearance of a shapeshifter who takes on the physical form of the other characters. The creature has a few basic characteristics: an insatiable thirst for soft drinks ("anything but diet") and a tendency to declaim in German. Another level in Grote's complex conceit is how he draws parallels between his domestic drama and Friedrich Schiller's Maria Stuart, about the tragic battle between Queen Elizabeth I of England and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots.
The play begins with Stuart (Eli James), a graphic artist with intellectual pretensions. He is preparing to launch a superhero comic book whose characters take their names from the plays of Anton Chekhov, including the Three Sisters, the Seagull, and the Cherry Orchard ("with all the powers of a cherry orchard!").
Stuart is the only man Grote depicts in a family of strong women; his exhausted mother Marnie (Amy McWilliams) and his sexy aunt Lizzie (Emily Townley) have husbands, but they are absent throughout the play. The rest of the family includes Marnie and Lizzie's sister Sylvia (Naomi Jacobson), who has prosthetic hands and a tendency toward hallucinations; Lizzie's underachieving daughter Hannah (Meghan Grady); and the matriarch, Ruthie (Sarah Marshall), who's doing her best to keep up appearances as things collapse around her. While the entire cast does well, Jacobson has the flashiest role, and she grabs attention whenever she appears.
The combination of the commonplace and the fantastic comes through in James Kronzer's set design: Lizzie's kitchen on one side, Marnie's on the other, and rectangular kitchen cupboards (resembling coffins) rising in an arch to the ceiling. Debra Kim Sivigny's witty costumes encapsulate the characters, from Stuart's scruffiness to the way that Lizzie shows her cleavage even in a black mourning dress. Colin K. Bills' lighting design and Matthew M. Nielson's sound design and original music are unobtrusive in the naturalistic scenes, striking and evocative in the moments of fantasy.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company