Austin Cassidy is a 55-year-old ne’er-do-well money manager who has just completed his umpteenth stint in a drug rehab facility for alcohol and cocaine addiction. He visits his estranged wife Petra and his precocious 16-year-old daughter Pandora (nicknamed Dory) at their Brooklyn apartment for a tense attempt at reconciliation. Petra’s father, a Greenwich, Connecticut, grandee provides monetory support.
Until he gets back on his feet, Austin is staying in his childhood bedroom in the Hell’s Kitchen brownstone that he grew up in. His successful, single, wheeler-dealer 54-year-old brother Martin now owns it. Martin is resentful for having had to bail Austin out many times but has arranged a new job for him. Austin instead wants to borrow over $500,000 to buy and a run a dilapidated country inn.
While gardening in the backyard of the brownstone, Austin is visited by Andy Valdez. This underwritten character is his counselor from rehab who is also a landscaper and has come to help out and check up on him. Andy is 25, handsome, bearded, muscular, wearing tight jeans and a white T-shirt. After a soulful conversation they’re soon embracing and kissing. Dressed in a black bikini, voluptuous daughter Pandora interrupts this jolting exchange. This intriguing development pretty much gets sidetracked as the play grinds on with Irish-American dysfunctional family revelations piling up until its lugubrious finale.
The opening scene has Petra assiduously polishing silver spoons. We later learn that her spoon collection is of great sentimental value as she stole them from the lavish European hotels in which she stayed in her younger days. This treasure is featured prominently and improbably in the plot. It’s one of a number of off-kilter threads on display.
In the play’s timeline, Austin would have been born in the early 1960’s yet he passionately espouses JFK assassination theories, mourns Bobby Kennedy and laments the fate of Lenny Bruce. Anachronisms and illogic abound.
Author Elda Cusick presents a jumble of short scenes that shift locales with overdone characters in ludicrous situations spouting cliché-laden dialogue. “It’s like Grand Central Station,” gets repeated. Even with a peerless cast and accomplished direction, it would be a struggle to achieve a semblance of believability and a minimal level of theatrical achievement from Ms. Cusick’s deficient writing. This production complements it and the results are dreadful.
Thomas G. Waites has a long list of major credits that go back to the film The Warriors in 1979. As Austin, he gives one of the strangest performances in memory. It’s a monotonously upbeat steamroller turn that recalls the hyper enthusiasm of the young Donald O’Connor combined with the cloying seriousness of the older Mickey Rooney at his most lachrymose. Watching Mr. Waites is exhausting and bewildering.
Employing a pseudo-valley girl delivery with a croaky lilt, Michaela Waites as Pandora brashly carries on as if she’s playing the title character in a community theater production of Lolita.
Rochelle Boström valiantly soldiers on as Petra. The appealing Ms. Boström staunchly maintains her dignity and composure even when rhapsodizing about her spoon collection and having to be seen in a bra, panties and a man’s shirt and tie for an embarrassing sex scene.
The gifted and charming AJ Cedeño gives an admirably focused performance as Andy Valdez during his brief appearance. Mr. Cedeño’s easy-going sensuality and intensity make it seem like he’s one of William Inge’s smoldering catalysts.
As the tough and duplicitous Martin, James McCaffrey gives a performance that is shaded and solid. Mr. McCaffrey has the dubious distinction of being the most successful of the cast in succeeding with such hopeless material.
Director Ed Setrakian’s staging is barely adequate and has a poorly executed fight scene. The ending after a fantasy sequence is abrupt and confusing as the actors appear and mill around for a few seconds and it gradually becomes evident that this is the curtain call.
The scenic design by Tsubasa Kamei is artfully simple visually with its basic furnishings and wraparound paintings of miniature apartment windows surrounding the top of the stage but is too complicated in light of the many scene transitions. The lights dim and a squadron of stagehands laboriously move panels around and rearrange furniture diminishing the sense of reality. Mr. Kamei’s lighting design is proficient, while Michael Clifford’s music is suitably moody.
Kate Clifford’s well-selected costumes depict the characters realistically. Austin’s gleaming white suit that he wears in the opening scenes of the play arouses curiosity. Is it symbolic of a fresh start in life? Is it a reference to the reformed rogue Hickey in Eugene’s O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and his arias denigrating pipe dreams? Perhaps it’s just a white suit but it’s a welcome mental diversion from the pitiful proceedings.
A delusional and psychologically damaged dreamer grappling with personal anguish and sexual conflict is definitely a subject for drama. Austin’s treatment of these matters is totally negligible.
Austin (through September 10, 2016)
Midnight Lunch Productions
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission