BWW Review: THE YEAR TO COME at the La Jolla Playhouse
As a New Year dawns, everyone looks forward in anticipation on all the good things that the future holds. In THE YEAR TO COME playing at the La Jolla Playhouse through December 30th, shows one families New Year's celebrations journey through the years and how their past has built the future.
Mostly set in Florida it plays out in the backyard of Frank (Jonathan Nichols) a former New York fireman, and his wife Estelle (Jane Kaczmarek). Their son Jim (Adam Chanler-Berat) and his husband Sinan (Pomme Koch) are down from New York to celebrate the New Year with some family fun in the sun around the backyard pool. Aunt Pam (Marcia DeBonis) and her husband Joe (Ray Anthony Thomas) are there to celebrate as well. While this family shows genuine affection for one another that does not stop them from debating those age old family hot button topics of political, religious, and social issues.
As the years count backward, showing the evolution of the family as it unfolds backward in time the audience meets Pop-Pop (Peter Van Wagner), and gains more details and questions about a significant event in the past that has forever altered this family's journey.
Chanler-Berat as Jim and Koch as Sinan are excellent and make the most of their characters journey from dating to parenthood. Nichols has fire and energy as the patriarch of the clan, and his connection with Kaczmarek's Estelle makes them a convincing parental unit.
DeBonis is a believable ditzy aunt who makes questionable decisions about relationships and her health, and Thomas is doing the best he can with the little character information provided. Van Wagner has a fantastic moment in the first act, but then seems to fade back into the background noise as the years go by in the rest of the show.
As a family, the show strives to show connections and growth between the different characters over time; though it could use more character details to get the audience truly vested in their journeys. The broad scope of looking at the years, through the macro lenses of this family doesn't really allow any true character interiority to be built. Instead this family feels built with character types to check all the requisite boxes on the diversity list.
The play does a better job illustrating the larger scope of the movements and social mores of the United States over the years. It proves that the ups and downs we celebrate or complain about now, are similar to what has come before and probably what will come afterwards. That perspective is both comforting and frustrating that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Told in a backwards New Year's countdown, the years flash on the screen with the certainty that once the ball drops we'll see an event that has shaped this family so absolutely. The trouble is that the device doesn't necessarily build the tension and suspense it could, and that big event is easily guessed by paying any attention to the show.
This new work can use some editing; the opening monologue doesn't add anything to the story, the vultures seem like they were added solely to have something to talk about. (Or potentially keep people from moving to Florida. Who wants to live where vultures crash through your porch screens?) Some scenes could be cut entirely to make room for other and more interesting scenes play out.
The scenic design by Christopher Acebo is a backyard in Florida, including a working and swimmable pool. The characters use the pool constantly, so a major shout out to the backstage crew who have to keep the stage clean and dry between the many exits and entrances of wet characters.
THE YEAR TO COME has a good cast and a good premise; as the show illustrates each New Year provides an opportunity to adapt and progress based on the events of the prior year. So it will be interesting to see how this show continues to develop when the ball drops into 2019.
Photo Credit: La Jolla Playhouse