Friday, June 5, 2015

Review: Another Family Drama

Ah the family drama. Quite possibly the most personal and intimate of any theatrical story. No matter the subject, the family drama seems to always resonate with audience members due to personal connections to characters or themes. Hey Jude by Nancy Manocherian is no different. In her family drama, a trio living in the suburbs of New York spend a Christmas together that leads to secrets being revealed and reality sadly setting in.
Hey Jude follows Anna, a devout believer and a crippling Beatles obsessed housewife as she prepares for Christmas with her husband Henry and son Jude, aptly named after the hit Beatles tune. On the days leading up to the big day, Anna, who is haunted by her past, slowly decides to reveal the truth of Jude’s adoptive origins as well as deal with a husband who is mentally decaying. Hey Jude features themes that are prevalent and personal. It’s one of those tales where while it seems that every issue is coming to fruition all at once, but in reality, it’s just the timing of life. Manocherian’s script is interesting. With the tonality of magical realism, Manocherian offers the fantastical and the practical, the poetry and the colloquial. But blending them and uniting them as one seemed to be a struggle. Manocherian includes the device of showing Anna 2, the reminder of Anna’s past, to offer exposition as well as provide insight to the present. However, while it may have been Deborah Offner’s acting choices, the inclusion of Anna 2 made Anna appear a bit whacky. Jude does mention that his mother may be senile, so if this is the case, it's not clear enough. It’s always hard to include the importance of popular culture into a piece because it’s not active. There is an overload of Beatles references. We know that Anna likes the British quartet but Manocherian’s burdens the script with hokey references. Manocherian has devised an incredibly special story and without anything Beatles related, Hey Jude, title pending, would have thrived. The beauty of this story is the relationships between the characters. That’s what makes this piece significant.
photo courtesy of Michael Bonasio
The quartet of Hey Jude did a fine job bringing their characters to life. Leading the pack was Adam Weppler as Jude. Weppler had a wonderful balance of awareness and firmness while attempting to keep his parents afloat. Weppler’s wise beyond his years Jude didn’t fall into the teenage trap, giving him layers. As Henry, Larry Cahn had an incredible task of portraying a character losing his memory. Cahn was raw and heartbreaking. And kudos to Cahn for not falling asleep on the couch while on stage during preshow. From a casting perspective, Deborah Offner and Catherine Dupont as Anna and Anna 2 could not have resembled one another more. Dupont brought an incredible poise to a role that went beyond just a device. Offner’s performance didn’t quite match her costars. While there very could have been a key bit of information missing from Manocherian’s script, Offner portray of Anna didn’t seem real.
Director Kira Simring focused on the family and it showed. Simring paid attention to the nuances of the relationships to find the honesty within the story. Simring used the space well despite some setback provided. The set by Peiyi Wong is simple and real. It evokes the typical American home. But Wong and Simring struggled discovering a captivating way to bring Anna 2’s world into Anna’s home. Blame the marimba. Wong’s set included a black corner with a marimba that Anna 2 used throughout. It’s placement on the set forced a disconnect between two of the house walls forcing Wong to construct the family’s house around the architecture of Urban Stages. Had the marimba, something that was jarring to begin with, been eliminated and the walls of the house connected, Wong’ set would have been a grand success. As it stands now, it was merely a distraction to see the exposed balcony of the theater. The lighting design by Gerjan Houben was simple as well. But when Houben entered the magical world of Anna’s mind, the use of color was extraordinary.
Hey Jude is a beautiful story. It’s heartfelt and personal. But put up against a sea of other family drama’s, Hey Jude doesn’t stick out. And like Henry’s memory, it will just linger there until another one comes around.