Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, April 2006
Click HERE to read the letter I received from director David Lane.
I do not understand this play. I think it is beautiful, I think it is well acted, and I think it is very funny, but I do not understand it. That is very frustrating. I wonder whether I am trying too hard, maybe it is simpler than I am trying to make it. After all, the first rule of playwriting is “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” At least that’s what I was taught at Sarah Lawrence College, and playwright Jennifer Mattern and her husband David Lane, who directed this production, are fellow Sarah Lawrence alumni. Maybe this is just a play about these people, who are interesting and funny, and nothing more than that.
While Like Home focuses on the Connelly family of Philadelphia, this production focuses on the Mattern/Lane family and the Trova/Trainor family. As mentioned above Mattern wrote it and Lane directed it. Spencer Trova appears as Ralph Connelly and his daughters Justina Trova and Alexia Trainor play Ralph’s daughters Cassandra and Veronica. Alexia’s husband Michael Trainor plays her love interest whose name is Jose (rhymes with Rose). Bruce T. MacDonald, with whom Spencer Trova founded Main Street Stage, plays Bob, who may or may not be Ralph’s blood brother. And Linda White, who is not related to anyone on the stage in any way, plays the insane matriarch of the Connelly family, Ralph’s wife Kitty, as well as various other women whose lives intersect with the Connellys’ and Bob’s after Kitty dies at the end of the first act.
While everyone in real life and in fictional life is closely bonded, the characters in Like Home live parallel lives. With the exception of the young and brash Cassie, none of them really relate to any of the others, and Cassie barely succeeds in making a dent in the others’ lives, no matter how much she gets in their faces, until, in the end, she gives birth.
At the opening of the play, which takes place during the nine months of Cassie’s pregnancy, the Connellys’ middle daughter, Sharon, has left home. We are told that Cassie is 17 and Veronica is 32, so Sharon must be 20-something, certainly a decent age at which to strike out on one’s own. And given the high level of insanity present in the Connelly home, it would appear that Sharon escaped not a moment too soon. Ralph has recently returned home from a stint in jail for embezzling and is unable to get himself back out into the real world. Veronica is chronically unemployed and withdrawn, having labeled herself an unattractive old maid long before her time. Cassie holds down a minimum-wage part-time job at the Taco Bell across the street (the family car has been repossessed) where Jose is the assistant manager. Jose pines away for Veronica and to be taken seriously as a poet. Bob, who is disabled, is abandoned by his common-law wife. And Kitty is stark raving mad, absolutely bonkers, criminally insane. But Ralph, Kitty, Veronica, and Cassie cohabitate. In a way they love each other. Certainly they are dependent on each other, like a house of cards destined for collapse if even one is removed. And one has been removed…
There are no bad performances in this show. Mattern’s scenes are short and brisk, and Lane keeps the action zipping along on a spare and basic black-on-black set consisting of various moveable cubes, rectangles, and podia. The lighting, designed by Spencer Trova and Alexia Trainor, moves the audience’s attention from one location to another, from one scene to the next.
The Trovas, the Trainors, Bruce MacDonald, and Linda White, are all very talented and skillful performers. White, MacDonald, and Justina Trova get the out-there, extroverted, showy roles, while Spencer Trova, Alexia Trainor, and Michael Trainor play the more introverted folks. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite. Mattern has created six very interesting characters, and given each their own very funny and very poignant moments. Mattern is a poet as well as a playwright and blogger, and the scenes where the hopelessly talentless Jose attempts to perform at a poetry slam are absolutely hilarious as Michael Trainor plays the role with complete seriousness and devastating intensity.
White has the most physically and vocally demanding role, portraying Kitty’s total insanity with tremendous energy. Ralph thinks Kitty is faking it, and refuses to seek help for her, but in the play’s ultimate moments it becomes clear just how dangerous the family’s denial of the depths of Kitty’s troubles has been.
Justina Trova is spot-on as Cassie, the ultimate rebellious teen with a heart of gold. MacDonald is very funny as the loud-mouthed sad-sack Bob. Haven’t we all known someone like that? Inappropriate and annoying as hell, but endlessly loyal and loving.
If I were going to have one kvetch about the casting it would be that Alexia Trainor, who is obviously pregnant in real life (congratulations!) is playing Veronica, who is not pregnant, while Justina Trova, who is not pregnant, is playing Cassie, who is. I have no problem with pregnant women playing non-pregnant roles. An actress is an actress and if she is pregnant and her character is not, fine. I remember an hilarious turn by Maureen McCormick when, as a very pregnant adult, she played the teenaged and virginal Marcia Brady in a dream sequence in the short-lived 1980’s sitcom “Day By Day.” But Alexia Trainor is forced to wear a humongous Michelin Tire-guy down vest for the entire show, and there are endless lines about how Veronica is a plus-sized woman. Alexia Trainor is not a plus-sized woman, she is a pregnant woman, and a down vest is not a “fat suit.” If the role called for a plus-sized woman, then one should have been cast. If the down vest and the lines about Veronica’s weight were added to help explain/conceal Alexia’s pregnancy, forget it, I wasn’t fooled.
On the other hand Cassie’s pregnancy was faked, as usual, with increasingly large pillows. But Justina Trova essentially wore the denim mini-skirt until the very last scenes of the play, and the pillows were obviously placed on top of it. You can’t wear a denim mini-skirt in your third trimester. She should have changed earlier into the comfy-looking sweatpants and peasant top she wore for the scene just before she delivered the baby.
The posters and the program for Like Home feature a painting by Lane of Judy Garland’s feet in the ruby slippers as Glinda’s wand touches them. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
In an interview in the April 27 issue of The Advocate, Lane is quoted as likening the six characters in Like Home to those in The Wizard of Oz in that they are all “searching for something they hope to find but have to work hard to earn…[Mattern] didn’t base the play on Oz, but the story of Oz works as a kind of metaphor for what’s going on in the play.” The article proceeded to indicate that it would be fun for the audience to try to guess the parallels between the two sets of characters.
I am familiar with both the Oz books and with the 1939 MGM movie, but darned if I can figure out the relationships between that story and this one. Kitty is obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, although it is evident that Mattern is no true Ozian and that Kitty’s obsession is with the film version rather than with any of the multitudinous books (L. Frank Baum wrote 14, Ruth Plumly Thompson authored another 19, and people are still writing about Oz and its citizens to this day.)
I would suggest that you pay no attention to the feet in the poster or the man in the Advocate. I think that focusing on the potential parallels between and Like Home led me seriously astray and had me sitting in the theatre searching desperately, like the film Dorothy, for something I had never really lost in the first place.
It is important to note that there are lots of four-letter words in Like Home and that the play focuses on strong, adult themes like insanity, murder, extra- and pre-marital sex, teen pregnancy, and abortion. This is not a play for children or for people who object to any of the above-mentioned topics.
Like Home runs weekends through May 14. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission and is definitely “R” rated. For reservations or more information call Main Street Stage at 413-663-3240 or visit their Web site. The theatre is located at 57 Main Street in North Adams, a few doors east of Papyri Books.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2006