Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Thousand Pines
Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


Andrew Veenstra, Kelly McAndrew and Katie Ailion
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Thousand Pines, in a world premiere at Westport Country Playhouse through November 17th, is a resonant understatement zeroing in upon family members' reactions to death through gun violence. Written by Matthew Greene and directed with attention to nuance by Austin Pendleton, the 80-minute emotional drama is underscored by somber and sobering musical sounds Ryan Rumery (composer) provides as one enters the theater. The mood is set with precision.

Three separate scenes, with hardly a moment before one slides into the next, are performed with intelligence and care by six highly skilled actors. We see the interior of a comfortable suburban home at Thanksgiving. The handsome wooden table is predominant. Designer Walt Spangler, who has often worked with Austin Pendleton, furnishes a set which suggests a larger house; the focus is in the dining area.

The initial vignette finds a young man named Justin (Andrew Veenstra) yelling as he appears. His younger brother has been a victim of a school shooting. It is Justin who says to his mother, "He's gone, Mom. Cory's gone." Justin is no longer engaged to Ashley (Katie Ailion), but this young woman is now present to help prepare the holiday meal. The pivotal figure in this sequence and probably for the entirety of this play is the mother. Each of the mother personas is portrayed with variance and dexterity by Kelly McAndrew. Mother's brother-in-law, Charlie (Joby Earle) appears and has suffered a cut face and black eye. Other roles in the opener are taken by actors William Ragsdale and Anne Bates. Suffice to say that much is unveiled during the 25-minute first act. Greene, fortunately, does not overwrite.

Austin Pendleton is a seasoned multi-talented actor, director, writer and teacher. His interpretation of this piece allows each component to gradually unfold and speak for itself. Pendleton has been cast in many important character roles on stage and screen. As a director or actor, he is never one to force a moment.

During the second and third portions of Thousand Pines, the actors return as members of other families who cope. It would be unwise and unfair to divulge more. Always, there is conflict and struggle. The tension is sometimes obvious or it might be simmering. During the third act, Greene provides dialogue which is somewhat connective and helpful. While there is no need for rewriting this affecting and insightful play, the author could clarify with a bit of fine tuning. A quibble: listing the characters as Actors 1-6 in the program and then the given names of performers taking the parts isn't of great assistance. The cast delineation should be more detailed.

Matthew Green's sensitive work is one of human empathy. We live in an age of school shootings, synagogue slayings, and murder in a college-friendly bar. Greene is a young man who wishes this play did not have its obvious pertinence. Sadly, however, it addresses an epidemic. Director Pendleton, decades older than the playwright, does not hurry his actors. It feels as if he is conducting three melancholic string quartets, rather than something more grandly symphonic.

Each performer is making a Westport Country Playhouse debut and all are impressive. Kelly McAndrew, as three quite different mother figures, shifts, without a hitch, from one to the next. Convincing as she embodies her characters, McAndrew grants herself room to demonstrate heartfelt grief. She demonstrates understanding and discipline as she gradually ascends to a wrenching state of mind. If McAndrew is the center of the production, the actress is surrounded by individuals who are far more than supportive. Within a given section, actors find exchanges and mini-monologues which afford them specific times to discover and deliver.

Thousand Pines, through November 17, 2018, at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Ct., Westport CT. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.


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