Tuesday, October 14, 2008


[Reviewed for Show Business Weekly]

Photo/Joan Marcus

We've all wanted to kill our mothers before; in that, Adam Rapp is dead on. It's not even all that hard to understand why Dennis (Christopher Denham), an obedience-challenged son, wants to kill his cancer-stricken mother, Maryanne. Annette O’Toole, in a wonderfully fragile performance, emphasizes the “mother” in “smother” as she alternates from sweet concern to selfish demand.

But the cruelness bound up in Kindness, (foreshadowed by a hammer that appears, all Chekhovian, at the start of the far more interesting second act), seems to scare Rapp. He runs from the plot of his most human, and certainly most naturalistic play, swapping out Maryanne for Frances (Katherine Waterston), a fey plot device. The two, of course, start drinking and flirting—“Are we falling in love?” Dennis asks in the middle of a lip-synch to “White Rabbit”—and it’s a charming distraction, but it’s less than kin, and far too kind.

Kindness continues to delay actual drama (barring the suspenseful but implausible plot) by describing Rent-like musical (Survivin’) that takes shots at neatly summarized theater—but gets back on track in Act II, as Maryanne returns. With her is a new acquaintance, Herman (Ray Anthony Thomas), a black cab driver, and he restores a sense of sincerity (and racial subtext) to the play. It also elevates the unspoken tragedy of this “jubilant” trip to New York City: with only a month to live, this is Maryanne’s last chance to be treated with anything deeper than a sterile, clinical kindness, and her interactions with Herman (just like the easy, all-too casual conversations between Dennis and Frances) show what’s behind the short spats between mother and son.

Things are deeper than that, but it’s not until the “real” (but tangentially so) slices of life fade—Dennis’s father, sobbing from yet another casino; Frances, looking for, and fearing, independence—that Kindness focuses on the underlying conflict. Here, buried in Denham’s quiet, tragic rage, and far from Rapp’s loose, comic range, the play at last reaches its shuddering truth.

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