Off Broadway Reviews
As the lights come up on the spacious but dilapidated kitchen of the Tate family's California home, one may be impressed with the scenic authenticity and attention to detail. The pots and pans hanging from the shelves, peeling wallpaper, and filthy cabinets appear instantly recognizable to theatregoers expecting a naturalistic play about the underclass. Indeed, the setting, meticulously designed by Julian Crouch, appears to indicate the milieu for a reassuringly familiar kitchen-sink drama that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. Suddenly and forcibly overturning expectations, the play rattles to life with a spectacular effect, which will not be divulged here, and instantly the scenic design reflects the fractured and elegiac world of Shepard's dystopian view of a family and country riven by anger and distrust.
The members of the Tate family are each cursed with a ravenous desire to transcend their emotional and financial destitution. Ella (Maggie Siff), the mother, intends to covertly sell the family home and move to Europe. As she tells her brooding son Wesley (Gilles Geary), "They have history in Europe. They know where they come from." Wesley, on the other hand, longs for a romanticized version of America, and he believes fixing and repairing the family homestead will make everything right.
Terry Kinney has a long history as both an actor in and director of Shepard plays, and his direction of the current revival finds the right balance among the violence, dark humor, pathos, and poetry. Siff, who seems to be channeling Holly Hunter, and Warshofsky, especially at his most grizzled state resembles Shepard, are a volatile pair. They are nonchalantly cruel and manipulative. In the last act, though, there are moments of tenderness, and through their performances one sees what the characters' marriage might have been like before life had degraded them to the starving class.
As the brother and sister, Geary and DeClement effectively convey the casual brutality and the quotidian consequences of a soul-crushing familial experience. In smaller roles, Andrew Rothenberg as Taylor, the slimy lawyer/ speculator, and Esau Pritchett as Ellis, the menacing bar owner hellbent on collecting what is owed him, are perfect foils for the ill-fated Tate family.
Natasha Katz's atmospheric lighting captures the starkness of rural California. Sarah Holden's costumes wittily point to the characters' attempts to achieve their aspirations merely by dressing the part.
Earlier this season Roundabout presented True West, the third play in what has been called Shepard's Family Trilogy (the second being Buried Child). As with the other plays in the trilogy, Curse of the Starving Class shows that the dissolution of the American dream is not just a national tragedy but a domestic one as well.
Curse of the Starving Class