Abduction, trafficking, extortion, and cult immersion…just a subset of the many heavy themes crammed into the one hour and forty-five minute A Family Reunion, produced by Out-Side the Box Theatre and playing in the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s intimate Lab II space.
The play’s a behemoth, overburdened with a host of complicated topics and demanding plot points. A double-child abduction lies at the center of the story—the daughter Sarah (a wistful Dana Maas) led off to a Neo-Nazi Christian cult to be reborn as a seemingly-brainwashed “Hagar,” and the son Joey (Ben Harris) led off to a life of child prostitution and gay pornography. To say nothing of the third daughter, Annelise (Carolyn Burke), who’s grown up unremarkable as the non-abducted third wheel to her infamous family’s drama.
Writer and co-director Larry E. Blossom has stacked the deck in this overburdened play. The show opens with the allusion to a mass suicide (think Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre), and heads forth from there into a complicated reuniting of the vapid “Hagar” and the turbulent Joey back into their well-bred American family. Adding to the drama is the interracial marriage between the patriarch, Christer (a kind but reserved Bill Wilburn), and his African-American wife Emily (a welcome high point in the show, compellingly portrayed by Yvonne Paretzky). Joey, the most apparently racially-mixed of the children, bemoans the effects his darker pigment has had on his life, compared to his lighter-hued sisters.
A Family Reunion
by Larry E. Blossom
Directed by Larry E. Blossom and Patrick Joy
Details and tickets
An elaborate extortion plot, the latent racism in the indoctrinated “Hagar,” and the antics of the one-dimensionally constructed housekeeper Gabriella (Guisselle Ramirez-Lema), round out the headlines.
It has the makings of a docudrama and the taste of a soap opera. It feels torn between the comedic and the serious, but treads with too much hesitation to ever land with confidence in either camp. The staging, co-directed by Blossom and Patrick Joy, is unsure of itself as it heads deeper into this thicket of a story. There are well-crafted moments sprinkled throughout (the first encounter between “Hagar” and Annelise is touchingly done, as is a midnight reunion between Emily and Joey), though they’re too few and far between for the deep depths demanded by Blossom’s laden script. A confusing series of hallucinations experienced by Hagar, and a bumbled climactic fight scene add to the heap, resulting in an experience that feels like the early trappings of a work that may produce some later fruits.
It’s a production that hits its bullet points, without ever reaching its heart—the difference between a play that’s performed and a play experienced. There’s a tremendous degree of care, tenderness, honesty and compassion required to tell a story of so many dueling family traumas—suffered by children, no less—and A Family Reunion feels ill-equipped to get us there.