BWW Review: LEGALLY DEAD: Certifiably Funny
Written by Dan Hunter, Directed by Steven Bogart; Set Design, Cristina Todesco; Sound and Light Design, David Wilson; Costume Design, Rachel Padula Shufelt; Production Stage Manager, L. Arkansas Light
CAST: Kippy Goldfarb, Adrianne Krstansky, Jen Alison Lewis, Christopher James Webb
Performances through February 24 at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA; Box Office 866-811-4111 or www.bostonplaywrights.org
Four characters in search of a dog, a will, and a missing father sounds like an intriguing - if disconnected - plot, but it's a good bet that anything that can be found will be found in mother's closet. The members of the Lincoln clan have gathered for Christmas and Mom just wants a nice family portrait for the annual greeting card, if only she can stop the children from fighting over Dad's Cadillac dealership, her heirloom jewelry, and brother Tommy's failed attempt to murder them all.
Playwright Dan Hunter's penchant for dark comedy is demonstrated in his new play Legally Dead at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre under the direction of Steven Bogart. Hunter says that he didn't know the play was destined to be a comedy until Artistic Director Kate Snodgrass pointed it out, but I can't imagine these characters playing it straight. Marsha/Mama (Kippy Goldfarb), Rebecca (Jen Alison Lewis), Annie (Adrianne Krstansky) and Tommy (Christopher James Webb) are each a blend of wacky and scary traits that are immensely entertaining, but you wouldn't want them on your family tree.
Here's the set up: Dad's been "away" for five years and Annie, a lawyer and a tippler with a large gambling debt, is trying to get Mama to sign a petition for the court to declare him legally dead so they can sell the business and divide the assets. Rebecca has found Jesus and knows the whereabouts of Walter (the dog), but is in denial about the fate of the dog and Dad. Part of her ministry is being Marsha's caretaker, and it's a full-time job to keep her on her cane and off the booze. Fresh from prison, Tommy shows up toting a mysterious duffle bag and claiming his place as the head of the family and CEO of Lincoln Cadillac. They each have an agenda and sometimes it can be confusing to keep track of the alliances and who is siding with whom, but it adds to the overall feeling of madcap, dysfunctional family fun.
Bogart guides this cast of pros through well-choreographed, comedic chaos that includes lots of drinking, taking the Lord's name in vain, verbal arm-twisting, and gun play, but nobody gets hurt. Well, at least nobody dies. Well, at least nobody human. There are insults galore, every one of them delivered right between the eyes with crack comic timing. Goldfarb is a hoot because she makes you believe that she's an alcoholic ditz, well on the road to dementia, only to turn the tables on her unsuspecting children. As poor, put upon Rebecca, Lewis is as unflappable as she is insufferable with her holier than thou demeanor and tarnished halo.
Krstansky's Annie is one of the funniest portrayals I've seen in her repertoire. She takes her licks from everyone and keeps bouncing back, despite being flustered, frustrated, and furious. She gives as good as she gets when Annie and Tommy go toe to toe to decide who wears the pants in the Lincoln family. Webb embraces the good and the bad of his character, playing it smooth and behaving like an altar boy to get what he wants, until he doesn't. Then he erupts into a volatile, menacing bully, expecting to simply overpower any opposition. He makes his case.
Cristina Todesco has designed a colorful, kitschy kitchen where all of the action occurs, but lots of offstage threads are interwoven with what we see. David Wilson is responsible for sound and light design, including televangelists preaching from the corner tv set and a cacophony of music and voices blaring before the lights come up at the start of the play. Rachel Padula Shufelt's costume designs help to define the characters in terms of their fashion sense: Mama's is elegant, Rebecca's is colorful and overblown, and Annie has none.
Hunter seems to be enjoying himself in the telling of this story. He skewers the family, religion, guns, and booze, but it's all in good fun because everything is over exaggerated. In the midst of their feuding, it is still possible to see the Lincoln's love for each other underneath the vitriol. It may be buried deep, but not as deep as Dad. The only unforgiveable sin in this family is driving a Honda.