A delightful play in need of a premise

By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Kevin Berne

L-R Walter Keegan (Gary S. Martinez) Nell McNally (Marcia Pizzo) Michael Astor (Jason Kuykendall) Susie Keegan (Rosie Hallett) Elliot Cooper (Stephen Muterspaugh) and Anna Patterson (Kimberly King)
 L-R Walter Keegan (Gary S. Martinez) Nell McNally (Marcia Pizzo) Michael Astor (Jason Kuykendall) Susie Keegan (Rosie Hallett) Elliot Cooper (Stephen Muterspaugh) and Anna Patterson (Kimberly King)

Mountain View, CA –  Written by Playwright Donald Margulies,  “The COUNTRY HOUSE” doing its Northern California Premiere at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in this city,  is one of those plays to see if you want to be entertained for an evening.

Presented by  THEATRE WORKS and masterfully directed by its Artistic Director Robert Kelley the work is entertaining. The actors portray their characters well. Their acting is natural. Visually, the set  by Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert, representing the inside of an elegant country house, looks "perfect", in every detail.

The play is the story of a rich father and his daughter: The father, Walter Keegan (Gary S. Martinez) is a middle-age Hollywood movie director; his  college-age daughter, a lovely girl we know as Susie (Rosie Hallett). We learn that Walter had recently lost his wife (who died in the country house to Cancer) and that “the family” decided to get together at her house.

Joining the reunion are Anna Patterson, (Kimberly King)  Susie’s maternal grandmother. She is a Broadway star and a former film and television actress. With her, came her son, Elliot Cooper, (Stephen Muterspaugh), a “good for nothing” individual who at one time tried to be an actor but never got the success of his mother. Also invited to the “family reunion” for no other reason that for being in the town, is Michael Astor (Jason Kykendall) a television actor who plays  the role of doctor, in an afternoon  TV drama. We learn from Susie that she has a “crush” on him and that her mother told her that he had been her lover. Astor also acted with Anna in a play once. The other “guest” is Nell McNally (Marcia Pizzo) a young  beautiful starlet, who came with Walter to meet his family because he wants to marry her.

A pamphlet in the press kit, explains that in this play,  playwright  MARGULIES  was trying to write a  Chekhovian-type play steeped in references and technique,  by blending elements of Chekhov’s “The Seagull and “Uncle Vanya”,  in a story  in which a Broadway actress meets her family in a country house. After seeing the play, however, we can tell that “THE COUNTRY HOUSE” is not Checkhovian, and speculate that the reason is that the Chekhov’s plays have a premise. and that “THE COUNTRY HOUSE” lacks one.

MARGULIES’s play lacks Focus. When his characters talk, the bits and pieces of their conversations go in all directions, making it confusing for the audience to even discern who is the protagonist in his play. 

Susie (Hallett), ? She is the first character we see at the beginning of the play, walking around the living room lifting the dust covers from the sofas and chairs. If she is the protagonist, however, we (the audience) need to lern more about her during the play. How did her recent mother’s death affect her?  How does she really feel about her father already living with another woman?  How does she feel about her? We wish that father and daughter have had a serious conversation on the subject on stage to answer our questions. We also wish that Susie could discuss with us her “secret crush” on Astor the actor.

But maybe the play is about Walter (Martinez).  If it is, we  also need to know much more about him. To hear from him that he feels  “empty” after he lost his wife is not enough. We want him to tell us more about his job in Hollywood, about the  “trashy movies” he creates to be shown to the 15-years old Target Audience. And we need  him to have a serious conversation with Anna, his mother in law, and explain to her what made him fall in love so soon with this  young beautiful girl wanting to marry her when he doesn't even know her.

And if Anna, Susie’s grandmother, is the protagonist on the play. we need to hear from her because she has a lot to tell us. We don't want her to be wasting her dialogue memorizing the lines of the  Bernard Shaw’s play she will be representing on the stage, we need her to use her dialogue to tell us about  her  “past,” about the times her daughter (Susie’s mother) and Elliot (her son) were growing up. That revelation could explain to the audience the reason why she always ignored Elliot and made him such a frustrated man that he now does nothing but drink  and smoke pot.

(WALTER & NELLAnd there are “two outsiders” in this family reunion, whose stories, in spite of being  interesting, have little relevance to the family’s drama. 

One is  Michael Astor (JASON KUYKENDALL) the handsome “Doctor” on "The afternoon television series" who, in real life, dedicates his life, to improve the conditions of the children in Africa. And there is Nell (MARCIA PIZZO) the young starlet, who being an starlet makes us wonder if she is really in love in Walter (who represents, to her the father that she never had) or simply want to use him to make her a Hollywood star. We also want to know something about her past, when she met Elliot who was trying to be an actor and he fell in love with her, but she rejected him.

(WALTER & NELL  pictured left)

So, while Nell, (PIZZO) is an “outsider”, in the family, we think that if she could talk, with Susie, and let her know more about her would have been interesting.

The play is highly entertaining but its structure lacks focus. Because of it, when each one of  its characters tells us a story, he or she sends the  plot into a different direction confusing the audience.

When the play ends, and the protagonist of the drama is finally revealed to the audience in a moving melodramatic and realistically-acted scene, we feel frustrated. We know so very little about this character. We know the character wrote a play, and in this play the character probably revealed many things, but we, the audience do not even "hear" one page of of this play. We don't even know what the theme of of the play was. This is a flaw within the structure of THE HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY, because what this character wrote, would have allowed the audience to see what made this character “tick”.

(King) and (Hallet) stare  at Nell (Pizzo) and Astor (Kuykendall)
(King) and (Hallet) stare  at Nell (Pizzo) and Astor (Kuykendall)

Yet, because the subject of this “play within a play", is only hinted in THE COUNTRY HOUSE' dialogue, we, the audience, do not learn what "the subject" in this "play within a play" was. And perhaps our knowledge of this "play within a play "subject", could have given us the premise that “THE COUNTRY HOUSE” lacks.

For more information and to purchase tickets visit: theatrerworks.org