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Two Thirds Home

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Standing is Ryan Woodle, seated is Aaron Roman Weiner
Photo by Jennifer Sayegh.

Everything old-fashioned is not quite new again in Two Thirds Home, the dusty domestic drama by Padraic Lillis that Broken Watch Theatre Company is presenting at the Michael Weller Theatre. Its examinations of topics ranging from family to homosexuality are not unaffecting, but Lillis's specific take on them feels like an attempt to participate in a conversation that's already faded into a whisper.

There's but the faintest air of Tennessee Williams suffusing Two Thirds Home, with the constant battle between familial and personal obligations producing the most recognizable scent. The two brothers at the heart of the story, Michael and Paul (Ryan Woodle and Aaron Roman Weiner), are having less trouble coming to grips with their mother's recent death from cancer than they are the newfound realization they'll have to depend more on each other. The unspoken feelings and still-tender bruises between them promise a fireworks display that only fizzles into the air as the play unfolds.

All their rivalries and resentments are filtered through Sue (Peggy J. Scott), their mother's lover for the past decade or so. Neither son has ever come to terms with their mother's late-life lesbianism, so when they arrive at their boyhood home (in which their mother and Sue have been living together) following the funeral, the last thing they want to do is confront the woman who sundered their family. That is, of course, not possible, and it's not long before all the secrets the trio are keeping come bubbling violently to the surface.

But their troubles, as well as the details of the uneasy truces that are formed and shattered over the course of the evening, are for the most part bitterly prosaic. There are dashes of envy and hints of emotional abuse and internalized bigotry that pepper the script, but these do little to punch up a series of confrontations, alliances, and fallouts that paint these people more as products of the repressed early 1960s than the more consciously aware 2000s.

Sue's vague self-loathing streak and the boys' not-so-vague homophobic leanings also don't inspire much of a sense of a modernity; nor does the play's structure, which sets up and knocks down those familiar problems like a string of dominoes. The limited benefit of tried-and-true trials like these is that they do pack enough of a general punch to keep you involved, and Lillis doles out the questions and answers at perfect intervals for the energy never to flag. (Giovanna Sardelli's direction, which provides the proper atmosphere of a wake on a battlefield, certainly helps as well.)

Some additional spice comes from a few potential story paths that are mainly left unexplored: Paul's ongoing fling with a married lesbian his own age, Michael's all-consuming fear of his young son being around Sue, and the political games arising from the various memorial services scheduled to keep various disparate groups apart suggest fascinating concepts abandoned before they reached full bloom.

That's also the case with the performances: Scott and Woodle spend too much time dancing around the periphery of their characters' betrayals to ever flesh them out beyond tamped-down anger doused with grief. Weiner brings a few more complexities to Paul, highlighting his playfulness and turning him into an older Peter Pan who's too busy holding onto dreams of the past to really bother about the future. You sense in him, the way you don't in the others, the recognition of change as being a necessary - if currently out-of-reach - force that could improve his downward spiral of an existence.

That existence, however, is one of a frustrated writer-turned-professor whose inability to balance his art, heart, and wallet is crippling his ability to write poetry. Paul, like Two Thirds Home, is not dishonestly sketched, but neither's everyday struggles are made to seem extraordinary. In a play that celebrates the uniqueness of spirit, sexuality, and kinship that define one human being from another, that kind of getting lost in the crowd is the saddest fate of all.

Two Thirds Home
Through August 12
Michael Weller Theatre, 311 West 43 Street, 6th Floor
Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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