Don’t let the Roman columns and Magritte-green manicured lawns fool you.
Those posh McMansion suburban communities have problems of trailer-trash magnitude, according to playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo’s hilarious, pitch-black comedy Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill, directed with intellect and a keen appreciation of the idiocy of human behavior by The Shakespeare Theatre’s artistic director Michael Kahn.
The difference is, the upper middle-class conducts their nasty business behind custom, solid oak doors, rather than over by the bird feeder and lawn ornaments.
Mr. Colaizzo’s penchant for funny, telling dialogue and astuteness in revealing the humanity in morally tricky situations was revealed in his play Really Really (also staged at Signature in 2012) and with Pride he once again demonstrates his talent for portraying tragicomic modern dysfunction.
And the family in this Georgia private community is a pip. Carly (a razor-sharp and brittle Christine Lahti) is hanging by a designer thread. All of her hopes, dreams and ambitions are represented by winning the neighborhood flower contest and getting her picture in the community newsletter. She’s a Martha Stewart Barbie Doll, dolled up in high heels and full make-up and fancy frocks even at 4 am, putting together multi-course gourmet meals (paired with wine) at the drop of a hat and maintaining a house where you can eat off the floors 24 hours a day.
Needless to say, Carly doesn’t sleep or eat—in an effort to maintain an impossible ideal of Hollywood thinness, she is bulimic—and she is a self-absorbed control freak to the point of mania. She is the Center of her Universe as well as that of her adult sons Chad (Anthony Bowden, troubled and needy) and Tommy (Christopher McFarland, playing someone both lacerating and deeply wounded) and her often-absent husband Louie (Wayne Duvall, who transforms from stony with his family to warm and blossomy on the phone with his girlfriend)—well, at least in Carly’s mind, she is.
All that quest for the illusion of perfection starts ripping apart from the first line of Pride, when college student Chad announces he is gay. Carly’s response: “If your brother is gay too, what are we going to do with our money? Who are we going to leave it to?”—as if that’s the crux of the matter. Then she starts drilling Chad about “who pays the check—metaphorically, I mean” in an effort to figure out who is the man in the relationship.
But Carly’s just getting started. Brother Tommy arrives, disheveled, overweight and conflicted over the law career his mother pushed him into. Right away she launches into the fat jokes and barbs about his weight and appetite in an effort to be “helpful.” When he confides in her about the woman he cares for, who happens to be overweight too, Carly cannot help but blurt out something insensitive and egocentric—“Is she funny?,” thus perpetuating the stereotype that all fat people have to offer the world is humor, most often at their own expense.
Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill
Closes December 8, 2013
4200 Campbell Avenue
1 hour, 35 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $39 – $104
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The rip-snorting dialogue you loved in Really, Really resurfaces in Pride, and the horrified laughter builds and erupts as the characters become more and more unhinged. Yet, with the excess of laughs and bad behavior, what emerges from this play is the tragedy of Carly and women like her—women we know all too well.
As played with laser-accuracy and depth by Miss Lahti, Carly is both way too much and, in her mind, not enough. She’s not thin enough, good enough to keep up with her neighbors—a gaggle of unseen desperate housewives who gossip and snipe on the phone while saying “bless your heart.” Sadly, where it really matters, she’s not loving enough. Yet there is a ray of hope at the end where Carly tentatively ventures out of her self-absorption and in a shaky voice, asks a friend “How is your family?”
Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill by Paul Downs Colaizzo . Directed by Michael Kahn . Featuring Christine Lahti, Wayne Duvall, Anthony Bowden and Christopher McFarland . Scenic Design: James Noone, Costume Design: Frank Labovitz . Lighting Design: Andrew Scharwath . Production Stage Manager: Julie Meyer . Produced by Signature Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
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