Written and Directed by Steven Carl McCasland

Currently running in rep with several other history-based plays by Steven Carl McCasland, 28 MARCHANT AVENUE paints an illuminating and compassionate picture of a turbulent time in the life of the Kennedy clan.

Tensions run high at the family’s Cape Cod compound as America girds for war. The two oldest sons, Joe Junior (Paul Thomas Ryan) and Jack (Colin Fisher), will inevitably be pressed into military service. In a more private family matter, the Kennedy’s eldest daughter Rose Marie (Kristen Gehling) has blossomed into womanhood and is attracting plenty of attention from boys. Rose Marie is “different”, and her parents worry that someone will take advantage of her. Public appearances and family gatherings are also disrupted by Rose Marie’s willful personality and propensity for sudden, uncontrollable outbursts. Something clearly must be done, and soon, but the medical options of the time are horrifying. Ever the politician, Joe Senior (Orlando Iriarte) tries to gather support for his plan to have Rose Marie treated with an experimental new form of surgery. Consent proves difficult to achieve. Compassionate Eunice (Rachel Adams) and plainspoken Kathleen (Kimberly Faye Greenberg) grow increasingly contentious, and even younger siblings Bobby (Brian Piehl) and Patricia (Kelly Reader) are drawn into the fray. All of them will be changed forever, but it is matriarch Rose (Dorothy Weems) whose grief and bravery we feel the most as she struggles to maintain a public image of togetherness even as her family slips from her grip.

McCaslan’s solidly-constructed script renders all the characters in three dimensions, each with talents, flaws, and ambitions. Yet the arias never feel forced, and the players’ entrances and exits are deftly interwoven into the tragic arc of the story. The actors coalesce well into an ensemble, with Weems, like her character, providing a strong emotional center. The show’s only shortcoming is that, with its 11-member cast, it feels a bit too big for its venue. Although the Clarion is a comfortable and well-maintained space, its ground plan and lighting kit impose tricky limitations on the flow of action. McCaslan makes it work, directing with a confident hand and wisely emphasizing intimacy over scope. But it would be wonderful to see this moving and relevant production find the larger room, and broader audience, it deserves.

28 MARCHANT AVENUE continues through May 31 at the Clarion Theatre, 309 East 26th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: http://www.showclix.com/events/1307

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