BWW Review: HOME OF THE BRAVE World Premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Home of the Brave
Written by Lila Rose Kaplan, Directed by Sean Daniels; Scenic Designer, Randall Parsons; Costume Designer, Jessica Ford; Lighting Designer, Brian J. Lilienthal; Sound Designer, David Remedios; Production Stage Manager, Casey L. Hagwood; Assistant Stage Manager, Olivia Gemelli
Performances through May 15 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-654-4678 or www.mrt.org
If you're tired of all the shouting, mean-spiritedness, and vitriol of the current election season, you might want to change your party affiliation and latch on to the fun and farcical campaign of Bernadette Spence, the unlikely presidential candidate in Lila Rose Kaplan's Home of the Brave, now having its world premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell. It's a good old-fashioned comedy with family values, a dollop of magic, and a potential nominee you can wholeheartedly support.
Cambridge playwright Kaplan uses politics - a subject that is often funny - to tell a story about family, which, in this case, lends itself well to comedy. Spence (Karen MacDonald) is a United States Senator from Iowa who has taken over the seat of her late mother. Struggling to fill her shoes and carry on her causes, Bernadette often drops the ball when it comes to her husband Owen (Joel Van Liew) and college freshman daughter Marianne (Veronika Duerr). She is hurrying to get home for Christmas when a mysterious figure materializes in her Washington office and fills her head with thoughts of running for President. Adrian (John Gregorio), a dashing Brit with ulterior motives, anoints himself as "Bernie's" campaign manager and journeys with her to meet the family and win them over to support her run.
On the home front, mother's agenda takes a backseat to Owen's news about a promotion in his veterinary career, housekeeper Dora's (Cheryl McMahon) holiday dinner preparations, and Marianne's infatuation with Val (Jordan Brodess), her new "gender-fluid" love partner and spiritual mentor. Adrian goes to work, employing the tried and true practice of divide and conquer, using whatever means necessary to rally the family. Meanwhile, Bernadette attempts to mend the damaged egos and hurt feelings of her loved ones, figure out who or what Val is, and reinvent herself in the image Adrian deems necessary for her success. Everyone falls under Adrian's spell until he co-opts Christmas for a major press conference in the barn, pitting the political versus the personal on the day when family values must prevail.
Scenic designer Randall Parsons provides three locales to frame the action: Bernadette's Senate Office with rich blue drapes and stately flags, the understated house in Iowa, and the beautiful barn with double lofts and wide doors that open to a pastoral view. Lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal and sound designer David Remedios accompany Adrian's entrances and surprise movements with thunder, lighting, and pings. Jessica Ford's costume designs appropriately match the personalities of the characters (especially the fun animal print pants that Owen wears).
Multiple IRNE and Norton Award-winner MacDonald may be the protagonist in Home of the Brave, but she blends in effortlessly in this ensemble piece. Each of the characters is given their moment in the spotlight, but the scenes that work best are where they get to play off of each other, either bickering or coming together for a common cause. The exception is Gregorio's standout performance; he steals the spotlight, chews the scenery, and leaves you hollering for more. His entrance is magical, but his exit is delightful derring-do. Director Sean Daniels sets a pace that allows the jokes to fly fast and furiously, but allows us time to savor their impact, as well as appreciate the feel-good message that Kaplan wants to impart. Home of the Brave teaches that we are all free to be who we are, especially if we want to be President.