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The Thing with Feathers

There’s a major surprise lurking at the top of the second act about how sins of the past can impinge on the present.

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DeAnna Lenhart and Alexa Shae Niziak in a scene from “The Thing with Feathers” (Photo credit: Todd Cerveris)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

Though there’s a major surprise lurking at the top of the second act, and though it’s about how sins of the past can impinge on the present, Scott Organ’s The Thing with Feathers is ultimately a play without many virtues. Early references to Emily Dickinson and poetry–the title apparently comes from a bastardization of a Dickinson poem–fail to lift the work out of the made-for-TV movie-of-the-week sensibility that keeps bringing it down.

There is something to be said for the loving relationship between the 16-year-old Anna and her mother Beth–and for the natural way it’s portrayed by Alexa Shae Niziak and DeAnna Lenhart, respectively. Beth often, for instance, straightens out Anna’s long hair, as if caressing it.

An even more shaded performance is offered by Zachary Booth, as the more complicated 28-year-old Eric–with a secret in his past–who has developed an on-line relationship with Anna. Eric also lives 900 miles away but drives all that distance to see Anna on her birthday, virtually meeting her for the first time. As he says to Anna when he shows up unexpectedly: “I’m a serial idiot when it comes to you.” And as he adds a bit later, “Everybody else in my life is shit.”

DeAnna Lenhart, Zachary Booth, Robert Manning, Jr., and Alexa Shae Niziak in a scene from “The Thing with Feathers” (Photo credit: Todd Cerveris)

Much to our surprise, we discover in a subsequent scene that they’ve slept together on what amounted to their first date–at Anna’s home, no less.  They’re still in bed, in fact, when Beth returns home with her second-husband-to-be, Tim (Robert Manning, Jr.). As designed with many realistic effects by Edward T. Morris, Anna’s messy bedroom is on a raised platform in the rear of the space, the much neater kitchen and living room are in the front. It’s all been directed with a heightened realism as well by Seth Barrish who, for instance, has Beth cover Anna’s birthday cake with Saran Wrap from a kitchen drawer.

Though Eric manages to sneak out undetected, it’s for reasons that won’t be revealed here that Beth becomes apoplectic when she learns that Eric has slept with her daughter–and it’s not just because he’s so much older than Anna. His real name is also Jamie, as opposed to Eric, which is part of his deceit. Suffice it to say, Beth’s anger is caused by the shocking revelation at the beginning of Act II, which also makes Eric’s telling Anna earlier, “I didn’t set out to find you,” a lie. But that’s also where the play’s contrived conceit makes it incredible. Incredible, too, is Tim’s underreaction when he learns about it.

Manning, Jr., gives what might be deemed a solid if stolid performance as Tim. The apt costumes are by Kristin Isola and Solomon Weisbard is credited with the lighting design.

The Thing with Feathers (through February 10, 2018)

The Barrow Group Theatre Company

The Barrow Group Mainstage Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-760-2615 or visit http://www.barrowgroup.org

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with an intermission

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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (75 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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