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Actor/director Lynda Clark has brought an astonishingly fine work to the stage at Theatre in the Park. Written by Melissa Ross, Of Good Stock tells the story of three sisters in a broken family who come together to celebrate their sibling's birthday. But such a simple premise hides a rich, powerfully stunning, and exceptionally real situation in which old wounds are opened for all to see. This tale of the Stockton women is a must-see, and you cannot fail to be moved.
The set for this show is itself a wonder. Designed by Nathaniel Conti, this is a sprawling country house on Cape Cod, the ancestral home of the Stocktons. It consists of an entry, stage left, a comfortable living room facing the beach, a large kitchen with working appliances, and a screened porch off the kitchen, with a table that seats six. Far stage left is the house's pier, complete with workshed. It has passed from father to son, and now to daughter, since there is no son to be had. Papa Stockton was a firebrand, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who drank too much, lived wildly, and died young. Even so, his wife preceded him, dying of lung cancer at an early age (45). All that is left of Mick Stockton's wealth and fame are this house and his three girls, now well into adulthood. The eldest is Jess (Andrea Amthor Twiss); she is married to Fred (Brook North), owns the house, and is suffering from breast cancer, having had a double mastectomy. As the play opens, she and Fred await the arrival of the other two sisters, both of which are bringing new men in their lives with them. Jess tells Fred there are still people trying to bring Mick's works to the big screen, as she sorts through the mail full of requests for rights to his novels.
Fred is a food writer, critic, and essayist who is awaiting his first national cover, an interview with a famous chef. The two discuss the imminent arrival of the sisters, Celia (Elizabeth Anderson) and Amy (Angela Burks). Amy has sent ahead of her Jess' invitation to her wedding in December in Tahiti, to the man who will join her here, Josh. It is a musical calling card in which Whitney Houston sings "I Will Always Love You."
First to arrive is Celia, alone. She tells Jess that her fella, Hunter (Brian Yandle), will be arriving by bus shortly. The two discuss Amy's wedding and the fact that she pitched a wedding already for her cat. Celia seems emotional and highly strung. When Amy and Josh arrive, Amy tries to make everything about her. She seems almost neurotic. Josh is very uncomfortable, and Fred, who must run some errands, takes him away with him. Before they return to the house, Fred takes Josh to the pier and opens the shed to retrieve a bottle of scotch. Over a drink, Josh examines what life with Amy appears to be.
While Fred and Josh are on their errands, Hunter arrives. He is a big lumberjack of a man who has 12 siblings; the family lives in Montana. He is a big, friendly, happy galoot who appears to dote on Celia. Jess, who has already discussed this with Fred, wonders how long this relationship is going to last. The men return, and Amy lights into Josh for smoking; she can smell it on him. A big fight ensues, and Amy retreats upstairs. Josh again looks at what his life is to be like, and suddenly he puts down his drink and flees. We hear his car start up and leave.
What the weekend devolves into is a knock-down, drag-out situation among the sisters over things they all thought, separately, were dead and buried. These "discussions" are brutal. Accusations fly, mostly from Amy, the middle child, but also to a lesser degree from Celia and Jess. Jess even gets into a bitter tête-à-tête with Fred over her illness. At a point in the second act, we wonder if anyone trapped in this weekend will escape unscathed.
This play is in every respect superlative, from the writing to the direction, from the staging to the development of the characters. I watched the characters closely; from Jess' uncertainty and fear of imminent death, to Amy's neuroses and loss, to Celia's defiant life choices, each of these characters was true, honest, and real. Twiss' Jess was complex and deep, revealing her desire to keep the family together no matter what. Their growing up in the Stockton family has caused her to become almost a mother to her siblings. Burks portrayed Amy as a woman on the edge; she has issues so bottled up inside her that, once tapped, they explode. Celia is also torn. She feels defiant, rebellious and hurt. The result is a powder keg; will it be destructive, or a powerful force to cement this family? The men, while no less real, are a subplot of this dynamic and honest examination of a family of sisters born and reared in a crucible.
Of Good Stock is a long play, almost three hours including intermission. But the lapse of time is noticeable only in retrospect. We are too much involved in what is happening on stage to be worried about the time. We come to know, care, and worry about these characters. The playwright's character studies and in-depth analysis of their actions, reactions, and interactions are surprisingly real and almost painfully honest. I have been doing this for a very long time; seeing a work this complex, and so carefully staged and recreated, is a treat that makes me glad I had the chance to experience it. Theatre in the Park's presentation of Melissa Ross' Of Good Stock is powerful, dynamic, and intimate. It will not only make you glad to have come, it will make you glad to be alive.
Of Good Stock continues through Sunday, June 23. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.