[First posted to Show Business Weekly on 9/28]
Not much happens during the first two minutes of Lucy Thurber’s Killers and Other Family: Lizzie (Samantha Soule) is sitting on the couch of her New York City apartment, working on her dissertation as Regina Spektor plays on the radio. Call it a last glimpse of normality, or the quiet before the storm, but it’s a clear choice by director Caitriona McLaughlin, and one that greatly informs the first ominous knock on Lizzie’s door. It’s not as immediately clear what the second, shorter silence means, as the door swings open and Lizzie sees not her lover, Claire (Aya Cash), but her brother, Jeff (Dashiell Eaves), and his best friend, Danny (Shane McRae), their thick, ragged jackets a reminder of the dangerous country they're from.
Their arrival will eventually lead to bad things — a fact Lizzie realizes and tries her best to prevent — but what this silence really represents is that recognizable violence can come as a welcome relief all that stifling intellectual tedium. Though Lizzie may protest (rightly so, given Danny's once-upon-a-time abuses), she’s simultaneously--and unwillingly--comforted by this familiar danger. Unlike the hidden struggles of the civilized world, she already knows her family’s savage rules. (Indeed, the moment Lizzie looks most frightened is when Jeff presses her to explain what she’ll do after becoming a scholar.)
It’s this trick — and the simultaneously exciting and terrifying performances of the cast (especially Soule, who has to play in both worlds) — that keeps Killers and Other Family from simply being an urban nightmare. For the first act, things are largely repressed, with the tension masked by nonchalance. The second act seems like Funny Games, in which two soft-spoken gentlemen increasingly violate the boundaries of an innocent family — except that it’s really about whether or not Lizzie can actually escape something that is an intrinsic part of who she is. Sure, Danny's a killer, but Jeff and Lizzie both shout this feeble explanation at a sobbing Claire: "He didn't mean it!"
Thurber’s wild play is justified by this familiar and haunting thought: There are some things about ourselves that we cannot control. Then again, some things are inexcusable, and those who are not a fan of in-yer-face theater may run for the doors.