The Artistic Home. By Jean Cocteau. Directed by John Mossman. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Dan Jakes
At least Oedipus had the good sense to poke his eyes out. Jean Cocteau's motherfucker (not an epithet when it's worn this proudly), on the other hand, meets and raises the bar for mama's boys in this delightfully deranged 1938 domestic satire.
The plot follows that of many French bedroom comedies, just with shorter distance between the bedrooms. Yvonne (artistic director Kathy Scambiatterra), a matriarch with a flair for hypochondria and dirty laundry piles, begins to suspect that her 22-year-old son Michael's (Julian Hester) heart is straying from the home. The young woman (Allie Long) who's the source of Michael's new happiness, unbeknownst to him, has family ties all her own, having recently broken off a secret relationship with George (Frank Nall), his father. Coupled with signs of betrayal from her emotionally distant, aloof engineer husband, Yvonne's death grip on her household begins to loosen. In John Mossman's bombastic production for Artistic Home, the family breakdown that proceeds bears resemblance to a dying star.
It's one supernova after another, in fact, as Mossman's cast alternate flexing their go-broad-or-go-home muscles. Scambiattera carries Yvonne like a disheveled and manic Norma Desmond, an emotional black hole whose only peace comes after collapsing from exhaustion onto a golden mattress.
The sheer breadth of the physical comedy keeps a sharp edge on the unsavory premise, but the real fusion cell at the center of it all is Hester's animated portrayal of Michael. A case of overgrown, purely naive id, Hester's jumpy personification of dopey arrested development satirizes the isolated lives of the bourgeois class Cocteau satirizes. Depending on what approach you want to take, Michael can be both a victim of his blue-blooded heritage and a spoiled brat so insulated he needn't be exposed to anything but a mother's love. Hester manages to earn empathy for both.
If anything, Mossman's production can afford to go even darker, a little odder—Cocteau certainly lays the groundwork.