Killers and Other Family @ Rattlestick Theatre, New York

cast list
Samantha Soule, Dashiell Eaves, Shane McRae, Aya Cash

directed by
Caitriona McLaughlin
The Rattlestick Theatres revival of Lucy Thurbers Killers and Other Family is beautiful acted, tense and emotionally complex, but it lacks a certain snap and is, in the end, strangely unfulfilling as a piece of theatre.

PhD student Elizabeth lives a comfortable city life in New York, sharing a nice apartment with her girlfriend, though she grew up in rural Massachusetts.

The play concerns her worries over the possible results of her urban existence colliding with her past – and the actual events that occur when they do.
Things start to go wrong when her brother, Jeff, and his friend, Danny, show up on her doorstep, needing cash. Suddenly the rural past she has actively disowned is right in her face, unavoidable. Danny, and to a lesser degree her brother, are the personification of her past one Elizabeth is desperate to forget. In response to their visit and the demands it places on her, Elizabeth regresses from being accomplished writer, weeks away from handing in her thesis, to a frightened girl. She becomes coquettish in her behaviour witj her partner, and increasingly bitter.

Shane McReas Danny is an alarming, disruptive presence. He is too large, too sexual and too dangerous to be confined in the city. McRea seems to physically fill the stage, his energy creating a sense of claustrophobia within Elizabeths once cosy apartment. Danny is a charming and sexy and simply doesnt acknowledge the limits this new city life of Elizabeths.

But having established this intriguing set up, with its palpable sense of sensuality and danger, the play just doesnt take it anywhere interesting. The show fizzles towards the end, towards a finale which is probably intended to be empowering, but in actuality feels flat and anticlimactic. The productions initial build up is like a balloon of emotion, suspense, sexuality and dread, and the payoff should be the popping of that balloon, or if not, then at least it should see the balloon soaring into the air. Instead the play ends with the balloon deflated and the audience feels a little robbed of the hoped for emotional explosion.

The cast do their best with the material. The supporting actors, Aya Cash as Claire, Elizabeths roommate and girlfriend, and Dashiell Eaves as Elizabeths brother Jeff, are fine in the lesser roles. Cash, in particular, gives voice to the question of why and how these things are occurring in her normal life. It is frustrating that neither she, nor the audience, ever learns the answers to those questions.

The sets, by John McDermott, help anchor the play. He has recreated a typical New Yorkers first apartment, cramped and furnished with leftovers, but warm and inviting. It is Danny, with his lanky frame and uncontained sexuality, who feels larger than the space. Director Caitriona McLaughlin keeps the piece moves briskly without feeling hurried.

Thurbers play is the fourth in a cycle of five pieces tracking a womans journey from a poor and rural upbringing to life in a multicultural metropolis. Each one of the plays, though with different female leads, form part of that journey. Killers and Other Family is well written and does an excellent job in describing that experience, that shift and the cultural duality that results from it, but it never quite pulls its disparate threads into a satisfying whole.

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