Family reunions and vacations often provide rich material for stage and screen. In Theater J’s world premiere of The Moscows of Nantucket, simmering tensions, clashing personalities, and close quarters combine for high comedy and family drama at a picturesque beachfront hideaway.
This hilarious, bittersweet play follows the quirky Moscow family as they grapple with personal prejudices and buried resentments on a peaceful stretch of Nantucket Island. Patient parents Richard and Ellen play host to their sons Benjamin, a struggling writer drowning in self-pity, and Michael, a cocky Hollywood mega-producer. Michael’s brassy bride Virginia and their soft-hearted nanny Sarah round out the diverse cast. Over the course of the weekend, the house guests struggle to heal old wounds and forge a new sense of family unity.
The dysfunctional bond between brothers Benjamin and Michael provides the play’s central conflict. In their strained relationship, Benjamin has command of his emotions, while Michael is gifted with relentless ambition, creating a fundamental divide that leads to constant quarreling. James Flanagan delivers an instantly likeable turn as wise-cracking man-child Benjamin, recalling his fine work in Quotidian Theatre’s moving production of Port Authority. As older brother Michael, Michael Glenn displays a deft dramatic touch throughout his challenging transition from one-note antagonist to sympathetic mentor.
As Richard and Ellen Moscow, Susan Rome and Bob Rogerson struggle to hold the family together, preserve their Jewish values, and come to terms with abandoned dreams. Their warm humor and natural chemistry help to balance out the brothers’ drama. Heather Haney whisks gaily about the stage as southern spitfire Virginia Christensen, disrupting the Moscows’ well-rehearsed home routine with her shockingly funny musings. At times, Virginia works a bit too hard for her laughs, but Haney’s bright smile and sharp comic timing distract from the occasionally forced humor. Amal Saade provides a pleasant turn as the laid-back Sarah, offering advice and comfort to the terminally depressed Benjamin.
The inspired set design turns the Moscows’ beachfront property into a character itself. The house is lovingly detailed, with two lobsters flanking the door, as a sort of sly dig at the Moscows’ Jewish bona fides. The stage even features a sandy stretch of beach, further enhancing the pristine seaside setting. On the artistic front, the beautiful program cover art provides yet another feather in the production’s cap. The producers showed considerable design smarts by reaching out to David Polonsky, animator and art director of Oscar-nominated Israeli animated film “Waltz with Bashir.”
Drawing on elements of his own childhood, playwright Sam Forman has crafted an intricate lattice of realistic relationships and personalities. With the exception of Virginia’s occasional non sequiturs, the humor seems easy and natural, and the arguments could have been lifted from a typical family’s Thanksgiving dinner. The believable drama enriches an already strong script. With this short, winning production of Forman’s labor of love, Theater J ends their successful 2010-2011 campaign on a very high note.
The Moscows of Nantucket
By Sam Forman
Directed by Shirley Serotsky
Produced by Theater J
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Rated: Highly Recommended
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
- Lisa Traiger . WashingtonJewishWeek
- Patrick Pho . WeLoveDC
- Jonathan Padget . Metro Weekly
- Chris Klimek . Washington City Paper
- Peter Marks . Washington Post