The Manhattan couple at the center of Another Way Home, Anna Ziegler's new play at the Magic Theatre, are chatting with us. They launch into their narrative with all the social energy of cocktail party conversation. He finishes her sentences, she his. She interrupts him, he interrupts her. They bicker. They are a long-married couple.
It may remind you of the set-up in Six Degrees of Separation, the John Guare play and subsequent movie, which begins with an affluent Manhattan couple telling their friends about a really unusual episode that recently transpired.
Mark Pinter as Philip and Kim Martin-Cotten as Lillian
In Another Way Home, the Nadelmans tell their tale with a "we have such a story to tell you" flair. But their story is not an anecdote; it's a story of a family -- their family -- in distress. We do indeed want to hear about the Nadelman's family crisis. The Magic's world premiere of Ziegler's play ultimately conveys how badly parents and their children can hurt one another. Earnest sentiments ring true and family dynamics can hit home. Still, under Meredith McDonough's unbalanced direction, the narrative tone is off-key.
Joey Nadelman (Daniel Petzold), the 16-year-old son is a handful, to say the least. And in the play, Joey, who is in crisis, says the least. Petzold expertly navigates the character's fuming silences, angry outbursts and inner turmoil. Like Joey, we would like to hear him get a word in edgewise.
Daniel Petzold as Joey and Jeremy Kahn as Mike T.
Petzold's Joey brings an understated urgency to the play, but Lillian and Phillip Nadelman seize the audience with their verbal busy-ness. There are very few quiet moments in Another Way Home. With its bare stage and self-consciously elaborate eloquence, writerly prose takes center stage, distancing us from the drama.
The Nadelmans directly address their captive audience; whether they are talking about lobster bibs or autism, they are "on." Are they confiding in us? Are they entertaining us? Are they reciting a staged novel? They stand stiffly, speaking well-practiced, too eloquent prose.
The couple's intelligent, well-articulate unhappiness could be played for Jewish neuroses, but they are more generic. (They are more East Side WASP than West Side Jewish.)
The parents have traveled from the Upper West Side to a sleep-away camp in Maine, where their problem son is now a CIT (Counselor-in-Training). He has been diagnosed with ADD, then ADHD, autism and then ODD -- Oppositional Defiance Disorder.
When his parents arrive at camp, Joey is full-throttle oppositional. Does he have a bad case of being a teenager? Could he be suicidal? His parents are at a loss as to how to speak to him without someone getting pissed off. Mark Pinter plays Phillip, a successful and self-satisfied lawyer who is not sure he really likes his kid. Kim Martin-Cotton's Lillian is fairly sure she doesn't really like her life. Neither of them know how to talk to their son. She nags about Joey not wearing sunscreen and not writing letters. She calls her teen daughter (Riley Krull) for advice.
Riley Krull as Nora and Kim Martin-Cotten as Lillian
Mother, father and son get on one another's last nerve. Into the scene walks, Mike T, a camp counselor who is a breath of fresh, kind and non-oppositional air, bringing sanity and sympathy to the insular Naderman family tension. Although the parents are overbearing, Mike can get them to listen. As Mike, Jeremy Kahn is genuine and appealing. We wait with bated breath (a little) to see if he can be the family's horse whisperer. Petzold is painfully real as Joey; we must also wait to see if he will survive being a teenage Nadelman.
Another Way Home runs through December 2, 2012 at Magic Theatre in San Francisco. For tickets and information>, visit magictheatre.org.
All photos: Jennifer Reiley.