Go home again
It’s funny how a family visit can cause a person to regress. Take, for example, the trip my husband and I took with certain members of my family, when what began as a summer beach vacation degenerated on one long, tearful night in which my sibling and I—both fully grown adults—dredged up a fight we’d started 30 years prior.
No matter how grown up we think we are, family visits have a way of bringing back all the insecurities, the Mom-always-loved-you-more resentments we're convinced we've shed. This is the theme of Greg Burdick's new play, Monessen Falls, currently enjoying its brief world premiere at Reno's Good Luck Macbeth theater.
It's the inaugural production of GLM's New Works Initiative, a company commitment to staging bold new works chosen from a pool of submissions. Burdick, a Florida-based theater instructor and playwright, drew inspiration for the play from his own childhood in the crumbling, Rust Belt town of Monessen, Pennsylvania.
In the three-character play, Kip (Aaron Foster), a successful architect living in Manhattan, returns home to Monessen after a 17-year absence to help his brother, Ethan (Bryce Alexander Keil), settle their recently deceased mother's affairs. Kip brings along his new fitness-trainer girlfriend, Phoebe (Tashina Habibian), who gets more than she bargained for when the return home creates cracks in Kip's usually tough, confident façade. Nightly, he's suffering from nightmares so terrible that he wakes up screaming and having wet the bed.
The daylight hours are no picnic, either. Kip is overwhelmed by the mountain of debt his mother has left behind and has no idea how to address it. Brother Ethan, a jobless gambling addict still living at home, has only exacerbated the problem and seems incapable of solving it. He's angry that Kip left; Kip's angry that Ethan stayed.
The entire play takes place in the bedroom, which adds to a feeling of claustrophobia, particularly as the buzzing of the cicadas and a mounting, angry storm escalate the tension inside, and unthinkable secrets are revealed.
Each man, by turns, exposes deep emotional wounds and seeks a sort of absolution; each man has an opportunity to grant it. These revelatory moments are raw and authentic. I squirmed in my seat, feeling like an intruder in what seemed like too-private moments. Foster and Keil are magnificent. By turns, they leave it all on stage—every real emotion, every shred of pain they can conjure up is brought to life.
It's only unfortunate that Habibian is outmatched, and her lines, at times, feel trite and too scripted—odd in those otherwise-realistic moments. And while the intensity of the brothers' interactions is powerful and admirable, the story has some rough spots, and I felt there were a couple of moments of awkward staging and jarring sound issues. None of this, however, impedes the strength of what, at heart, is a potent story about forgiving the sins of your family and coming into your own.
If you're looking for a lighthearted escape, this ain't it. But for a reminder about the power and artistry of live theater, Monessen Falls has that in spades.