Sharon Maguire, Ashley Austin Morris, Jay Patterson, Concetta Tomei, Joseph Urla
John Gould Rubin
Something is obviously off-kilter in the Feingold family home. Everything in the family’s sleek, modern white home is slanted: the doors, the windows, and the stairs. And a mysterious older man keeps wandering through the house, pouring himself drinks, rarely speaking.
A crash of thunder and lightning begins the first act of Tony Glazer’s gripping thriller, entitled In the Daylight, now playing at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre. Hack author Martin Feingold is returning home after a long absence both to scatter his father’s ashes, thinking his mother is seriously ill and wholly unprepared for the revelations his family are about to impart.
His acerbic mother Elizabeth and seemingly innocent sister Jessica are glad to have Martin back on their home turf in New Jersey, but the dust hasn’t quite settled in regards to the revelations within his autobiographical book True Blue, which deals with the loss of a parent in frank terms but doesn’t quite get all the details right.
Perfectly plotted by playwright Glazer, whose work here is bitingly funny but also extraordinarily well-paced, the revelations throughout all feel unexpected and fresh, despite Glazer’s decision to work – to a certain extent – within the oft-maligned murder mystery genre. For the most part, his writing avoids cliche. Rather than relying on tired jokes and mysterious hokum, there’s a surprising, off-the-cuff quality to the play’s sense of humor, which is at once grounded in character development but tinged with a sense of latent absurdism.
Heading a top-notch cast, Concetta Tomei and Joseph Urla are perfection as Elizabeth and Martin Feingold respectively. Tomei, who has all the regal qualities of Susan Sarandon and the blowsiness of Elaine Stritch, is hilariously insulting in the role of matriarch, totally consumed by the no-holds-barred state of insanity into which her family has descended. As Martin, Urla plays up the manic, neurotic, writerly qualities of his character, giving off just the right sense of brusque charm and vulnerability to repel and attract and audience to him at once.
Much is added by those behind the scenes. Christopher Barreca’s sparse modern set is deliciously perplexing, keeping an audience turning its head to make heads or tails of the Feingolds’ diagonally oriented house. Lighting by Thom Weaver and sound design by Elizabeth Rhodes keep the production grounded consistently in its mysterious mode without ever lapsing into the same sorts of murder mystery booby traps to which Glazer’s script could easily have fallen prey.
As the play nears its conclusion, its tone grows appropriately darker without ever losing its playful soul. Glazer obviously delights in putting his characters into incredibly improbably corners and allowing them to claw their ways out. One of Martin’s crazed fans (played with gleeful malice by Ashley Austin Morris) ultimately adds a level of intrigue to the unraveling of the family’s closeted skeletons. From start to finish, In the Daylight is wholly satisfying, surprising, and full of interesting characterizations.