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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "The Country House" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "The Country House" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Manhattan Theatre Club
In association with The Geffen Playhouse

The Country House
(The Country House Website)

By Donald Margulies
Directed by Daniel Sullivan

Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer

At the
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

Blythe Danner
Kate Jennings Grant, Eric Lange, David Rasche
Sarah Steele, Daniel Sunjata

Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Rita Ryack
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Obadiah Eaves
Original Music: Peter Golub
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Casting: Caparelliotis Casting,
Phyllis Schuringa & Kelly Gillespie
Production Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
General Manager: Florie Seery
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Manager: Joshua Helman
Artistic Line Producer: Barclay Stiff
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 5, 2014 Matinee

Watching Donald Margulies’ new play, presented by Manhattan Theatre Club, The Country House, I could not get the characters of The Pearl’s new production of Uncle Vanya out of my mind. What a wonderful coincidence, for New York theatregoers to have these two superb productions to experience and contrast. Chekhov’s ensemble of family and friends, in the Russian country house, exude lust, catharsis, jealousy, boredom, spirituality, and high-minded refection. Margulies’ ensemble of family and friends, in the New England country house, exudes all of the above, with added affect, as most of his characters are theatre folk, of television, film, and stage. Divas, “divos” everywhere. And, like Uncle Vanya, there’s one stunning ingénue, whom three men hotly desire. In Vanya it’s Yelena, in Country House it’s Nell. Moreover, in both plays there’s a charismatic neighbor to whom the women are magnetized. In Vanya it’s Mikhail, in Country House it’s Michael.

Summering in Williamstown, near the renowned, bucolic theater festival, has been Anna Patterson’s (Blythe Danner) history, as she and her family curl up for home-grilled dinners in the stone and wood great room, with John Lee Beatty’s lived-in, cushy seating. Anna arrives via Ms. Danner’s stage entrance, into her own home, having arranged for Susie Keegan (Sarah Steele), her granddaughter to arrive earlier, as Anna is newly experiencing the country without daughter Kathy, who died of illness the year before. This is a family home, and the presence of albums, bookshelves, music, framed photos, and memories haunts, then soothes, these tortured souls. Among those tortured souls are Anna’s mature son, Elliot Cooper (Eric Lange), who’s still begging for guidance, attention, and demonstrable love, to heartfelt silence. Kathy’s widower, Walter Keegan (David Rasche), arrives for the visit, but with the voluptuous Nell McNally (Kate Jennings Grant), who evokes Samantha of “Sex and The City” lore. But it’s the neighbor, Michael Astor (Daniel Sunjata), swarthy, muscular, flirtatious, and self-possessed, who draws Anna, Susie, and Nell (yes, that’s all the women here) to his chest like a magnet.

Anna has “invited” Michael to spend a couple of nights, as his home is under some construction. She tries to get him to sleep upstairs, but he wisely opts for the couch. That couch by starlight takes on a life of its own, or almost, as plot contrivances intervene. Had this play been a takeoff of Feydeau, rather than Chekhov, we would have witnessed these lusty characters dashing to and fro, making more use of the doors, couch, and stairway. But, again, this is Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, so there was frenzy, rather than farce. Ms. Danner’s coup de théâtre occurs when she’s rejected by her young, macho house guest. She lets him know the cost of the pillow. Ms. Danner is larger than life and plays the aging stage diva with flair and sophistication. As Nell, Ms. Grant is studied, confident in her limelight, and, in another plot twist, her soon-to-be brother-in-law, Elliot, was once her quasi lover. He never made the move, and now he begs for a second act. Mr. Lange, as Elliot, whines, cries and, in his own way, woos, opening himself to transparent vulnerability. Elliot’s Chekhov alter ego is Vanya. His neediness underscored Anna’s conflicted mothering and her longing for Kathy. Mr. Sunjata bathes in the spotlight on each entrance, with all eyes mesmerized. In darkness, Susie comes done to Michael’s couch in a black negligee, to no avail. Mr. Sunjata was well cast in this pivotal role. Mr. Rasche, as Walter, hobbles on a twisted knee, showcasing his age, perhaps the alter ego of Alexander in Vanya. With Walter’s wife so recently buried, the family was ill-prepared for the weekend inclusion of Nell. Walter’s offstage Porsche said it all.

Daniel Sullivan has directed for poignancy, humor, and pronounced angst. Characters show little nuance, as they are emoting as actors, all inhabiting the stage of home. For Nell and Michael, the two outsiders, they generated fascination and fever. John Lee Beatty’s set design is true to an upscale, Berkshires retreat. Rita Ryack has dressed Ms. Danner in elegant scarves, jewelry, and long silks and linens. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting was key to a tightly tuned scene, and Obadiah Eaves’ sound kept everyone clear and resonant. Mr. Margulies has fashioned a lovely homage to Chekhov. Kudos to both.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at