AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Donald Margulies
Directed by Robert Kelley
Presented by TheatreWorks
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA / (650) 463-1960

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Donald Margulies' "The Country House" had a relatively short Broadway run last year, but TheatreWorks makes a strong case for it under the direction of artistic director Robert Kelley.

The house is in the Berkshires near Williamstown, Mass., home of the esteemed summer Williamstown Theatre Festival. Its owner, stage diva Anna Patterson (Kimberly King), is there for her starring role in Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession." She has invited some family members to join her to mark one year since the cancer death of her daughter, Kathy, also a stage star.

They include Anna's son, alcoholic actor Elliot Cooper (Stephen Muterspaugh); Kathy's college age daughter, Susie Keegan (Rosie Hallett); and Susie's movie director father, Walter (Gary S. Martinez).

Still grieving, Susie is dismayed that Walter has brought along his girlfriend, Nell (Marcia Pizzo), an actress who once appeared with and befriended Elliot. In addition, Anna has issued a last-minute invitation to TV star Michael Astor (Jason Kuykendall), with whom she has acted in the past and who also is appearing at Williamstown.

Thus the stage is set for much talk about the theater as well as the formation of several romantic triangles. For example, all three women unsuccessfully come on to Michael one stormy night when the power goes out.

Then there are the confrontations between Elliot and Walter and between Elliot and Anna. The cynical, overwrought Elliot, a would-be playwright whose acting career has gone nowhere, accuses Walter of selling out by making action films appealing to 15-year-old boys. Walter rationally explains that there's nothing wrong with entertaining that audience while making money.

Later, Elliot accuses Anna of not loving him -- poor baby. She responds that he wasn't very interesting.

Likewise, neither is his play, which the other guests reluctantly read through for him. Apparently it's quite bad, as witnessed by the way they're sprawled out in exhaustion afterward.

If some of this sounds like allusions to Chekhov's "The Seagull" and "Uncle Vanya," it's not a coincidence. However, one doesn't have to be familiar with either play to enjoy this production.

Kelley has assembled a first-rate cast with every actor creating a memorable character, from Hallett as young Susie to King as undisputed leading lady Anna. He and the actors also have mined all of the funny moments in the script.

Andrea Bechert's handsome set features a comfortable living room and a projection of trees and sky in the background. Costumes are by B. Modern with lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt. Besides creating the realistic storm, sound designer Brendan Aanes uses Joni Mitchell tunes to open each of the three acts.

The show runs about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. It's time well spent.

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