BWW Reviews: ROYAL BLOOD at West of Lenin Digs Up Dysfunction Amidst Perfection
I'll admit to a certain amount of trepidation when going to see the world premiere of "Royal Blood" by Sonya Schneider at West of Lenin. I mean a world premiere play about a dysfunctional family with characters based on the author's relations. It sounds like one of my least favorite things in theater, someone else's therapy on stage. Not to mention that everyone wants to be "August: Osage County" these days. And sure, while there were a few elements that read a touch predictable, fortunately what I got was a fresh storyline with gripping dialog from an ensemble of outstanding actors which amounted to a thoroughly engaging evening.
It's a tumultuous time for Dorothy (Mari Nelson). She's under the gun to finish a big expose for her editor in order to land a new job, she's been away from her daughter, Cassiopeia (Nicole Merat), all summer, and she's just been summoned back to her childhood home to deal with the death of her brother Leo. And to make matters worse, her ailing Father Cliff (Todd Jefferson Moore) has neglected to tell her mentally handicapped Sister Deb (Amy Love) about Leo's death. Of course secrets are revealed and this family who insists they are special due to a distant relation to Lady Diana Spencer comes to some harsh realities. So that's the predictability of it all. But within that story are some fascinatingly layered characters and some beautifully crafted dialog that never once sounded like any kind of forced exposition and with a piece such as this, those are the elements that keep the show from being the aforementioned therapy session. Schneider has crafted a beautiful play with a ton of potential that I, for one, hope finds future development. It deserves it.
Kudos must also be given to director Laurel Pilar Garcia for forming a killer cast and infusing the show with spot on perfect pacing which formed a scintillating roller coaster of emotion. Moore turns in his usual immersive work as he disappears into the character and makes you want to listen to him no matter how unlikable his character becomes. Nelson keeps popping up more and more in shows I'm loving lately and does not disappoint here as she brings the pain and futility of this supposed normal member of the family to life. I have to admit unfamiliarity with the work of Love and that is to my detriment. Her portrayal of this damaged woman in an environment that will never allow her to get better is equal parts beautiful, heartbreaking, tragic and lovable. Merat takes on what could be a throw away character in the hands of a lesser actor and makes her completely engrossing. And David Hseih as Leo's devastated friend Adam manages some touching moments but I must say felt a little forced at times.
But all told a thoroughly engaging piece that warrants an audience as well as some kind of future life. This, dear readers, is what happens when you gather a group of talented and dedicated theater professionals together. You get gold. With my three letter rating system, I give this one a YAY.
"Royal Blood" from Onward Ho! Productions performs at West of Lenin through April 4th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.onwardhoproductions.com.