Thursday, August 02, 2007

PLAY: "Two Thirds Home"

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but how do you measure the ownership of memories, that most essential and ephemeral of things? Two Thirds Home is a battle between two brothers and their dead mother's lesbian lover over who has the right to love the deceased the most. Is it Paul (Aaron Roman Weiner), the sensitive poet, the one his mother loved the most out of a fearful necessity? Is it his older brother, Michael (Ryan Woodle), the responsible but embittered son who only managed to impress his mother by making her a grandmother? Or is it Sue, who has lived in an unacknowledged relationship with their mother for twenty years, only to find herself neither a widow nor an aunt?

It's not a competition, or at least it shouldn't be, but then again, emotional people are erratic: they fight over silly things, and imagine that a piece of property can hold not just memories, but a person's being. Playwright Padraic Lillis ups the ante, too, by willing the property to all three: how do you divide a home in thirds? The first step is to reminisce, with Paul basking in fond memories of home while Michael squirms at the unfamiliarity of a home that he does not feel welcome in. When Sue arrives, Michael's discomfort is only amplified: here is the woman who has innocuously divided the family into those who approved and those who did not approve of the unspoken "friendship." Sue is grieving too, however, which leads to the second step: confrontation. The years of bottled emotions have aged well, and Lillis uncorks each new surprise with a samurai's clean-cut flourish, allowing the frothy emotions to explode across the increasingly cramped living room floor.

Such a character-driven play cannot succeed without a mastery of the script by its actors, and two of them deliver. From Peggy J. Scott, whom readers may recognize from Rescue Me, there are elements of both the yielding mother and the harsh interloper, and she snaps between the two on a dime, trying to alienate and reconcile, often at the same time. Ryan Woodle also delivers on the script, with one of the rawest character arcs in recent theater. He's the gruff child who matured too soon, resenting his brother's precociousness and jealous of the attention that should be his. As a result, he huff and puffs through a house he proclaims to harbor no emotion for, only to blow himself down when he at last confesses what he's lost. The only blemish on the play, and it's an easily concealable one, is Mr. Weiner's performance, a whiny ode to a mother who is only a fixed star in his orbit when the other two grow elegiac. Lillis's poetry is there to support him, he needs only find the power of memory to realize the full potential of this heart-wrenching work.

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