A downer by its nature, Nothing Gold Can Stay is playwright Chad Beckim’s heartbreaking 95-minute family drama depicting the ravages of rampant opioid addiction in the present day United States. It’s a bleak and accomplished take on the eternal subject of substance abuse. Mr. Beckim’s topical scenario is enforced by his skillful writing, the searing performances and the crisp production.
Over the course of 18 months in Northern Maine, we follow the travails of the lower middle-class Taylor family. Nineteen-year-old cheery Clay returns home from college for a visit. He has maintained a long-distance romance with his high school girlfriend Jess. Raised by a dysfunctional single mother, she didn’t go to college and works at the local chicken processing plant. Beset by anger and resentment at her situation, she is spiraling downward due to drug use. Her 26-year-old brother, the downtrodden though affable Jamie is a single father who has joint custody of his young daughter. Clay’s mother Susan is supportive, loving and upbeat. His tough older sister Tanya who also works at the chicken processing plant is in a bad relationship with an abusive man and often goes outside to smoke.
Structured in short, forceful scenes, Nothing Gold Can Stay is a grim snapshot of contemporary despair laced with flashes of dark humor. Beckim’s relatable characters are delineated with richness and sincerity in this modern well-made play. Painful plot twists inject surprise to the familiar material. It all plays out with the emotion, suspense and explosiveness found in the plays of Arthur Miller.
For a living room-set drama, director Shelley Butler manages to achieve visual, physical and verbal snappiness. Most resounding is Ms. Butler’s results with her cast that recalls the unified shaded vibrancy of Elia Kazan’s renowned legendary stage productions. The five actors have such a dynamic rapport that they infuse their simulated familial connection with charged believability.
Combining the perkiness of Anita Gillette with the quirky depth of Geraldine Page, the dazzling Mary Bacon’s poignancy and sly humor as the good-natured matriarch Susan is the production’s centerpiece, especially as it reaches its tragic conclusion.
The luminous Adrienne Rose Bengtsson’s hard-boiled wryness makes her Tanya quietly riveting. Peter Mark Kendall’s haunting forthrightness as the stalwart and melancholy Jamie endows the character with a sad heroicness out of Horton Foote. Jittery and emitting forlorn wistfulness, the wide-eyed Talene Monahon scores in the complex temptress role of Jess. Michéal Richardson’s commandingly boyish charm carries his truthful characterization of Clay through the part’s painfully circuitous trajectory.
Strewn with everyday household objects and packed with intrinsic furnishings, scenic designer Jason Simms’ living room is perfection. Lighting designer Karen Spahn alternates clinical brightness for the bulk of the presentation with focused dimness for the scene transitions. Sinan Refik Zahar’s brusque sound design contributes to the presentation’s zippiness. Working from the basics of jeans, sweatshirts and plaids, costume designer Whitney Locher personalizes each character with mundane flair.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is the title of Robert Frost’s 1923 poem that’s included in his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection New Hampshire. This play is an engrossing work of curdled Americana.
Nothing Gold Can Stay (through October 26, 2019)
Partial Comfort Productions
The Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at The A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.PartialComfort.org
Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission