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THEATER REVIEW I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn't Even Say Hello
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-11-27

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Playwright: Suzanne Heathcote

At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: $35-$40. Runs through: Dec. 18

It's been said that unhappy families are unique in their afflictions, so what could be unhappier than a middle-class, middle-America, mostly-middle-aged clan so undistinguished that their author doesn't even deem them worthy of a surname? Is it any wonder that they look to strangers for affirmation of their existence?

Grandmother Daphne is never without her quart-sized flask of whiskey, her electronic cigarettes and an unending stream of pessimistic diatribes. Her son, Jamie, six months sober, is about to embark on his second marriage to a neurasthenic sylph not unlike her predecessor. His spinster sister, Rebecca, has resigned herself to her kin's bullying ( currently inflicted through mockery of her sorrow over the death of her beloved dog a year earlier ). Finally, there is Sadie, Jamie's 15-year-old daughter, whose recent sex video mandates her sequestration with her aunt and granny, lest her notoriety disrupt the upcoming nuptials.

This unhappy family, it can be argued, is hardly in the same league as those of Euripides, Chekhov or Steinbeck—no children die during the course of Suzanne Heathcote's play, nor is anyone banished from their homes. What renders their suffering more empathy-generating than that precipitated by external circumstances—war, plague, meteorological disaster—is its proximity to its own resolution, however. As we gradually learn the reasons behind Daphne's bitterness, Rebecca's shyness, Jamie's resentment and Sadie's rebellion, we become increasingly invested in their coming to take responsibility, rather than assigning blame, for their pain. ( Hint: deliverance does not lie in pets, television or the internet. )

Redtwist Theatre's cozy storefront quarters are the perfect fit for this kind of domestic drama, its audience seated on the perimeter, much like the neighbors that Rebecca hesitates to greet on their morning commute ( hence the play's title ). Likewise comfortable sharing the intimate stage are the performers director Erin Murray assembled—notably, Jacqueline Grandt, Kathleen Ruhl and Adam Bitterman as the disgruntled adults; and Emma Maltby, Joshua Servantez and John Blick as the youngsters in danger of becoming like them.

By the end of Heathcote's play, all have seen the error of their ways, needing only another chapter in the saga to demonstrate to us whether they succeed in implementing their newfound wisdom.


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