Rory Kinnear's warm, perceptive family portrait benefits from a top-tier Steppenwolf cast.
It’s Andy’s 21st birthday, and he’s late to his own party. It’s hardly his fault, though: Andy, who has developmental disabilities and physical health challenges severe enough that he resides in a long-term care facility, is at the mercy of the caregiver who’s transporting him to his mother’s house for the family gathering. Said mother, Carol (Molly Regan), has devoted her life to meeting Andy’s needs—to the detriment of her own, if you ask Carol’s parents, Patricia (Lois Smith) and Brian (John Mahoney).
Carol’s invited them and Andy’s older sister, Claire (Audrey Francis), over for the occasion; Claire has invited a special friend, Mark (Cliff Chamberlain). No one invited Ian (Francis Guinan), Andy and Claire’s deserter of a dad, but he shows up anyway.
The Herd, which opened in London in 2013 and makes its U.S. premiere at Steppenwolf, is the first play by British stage and TV actor Rory Kinnear, who brandishes a thesp’s ear for snappy dialogue and engaging rhythms. One suspects his title carries a homophonic double meaning; from Carol’s phone spats with the dismissive manager of Andy’s facility, to Patricia’s nosy questioning of Mark’s career as a performance poet, to Ian’s plea to make his case, being heard drives the plot.
As performed by an impeccable ensemble under Frank Galati’s direction, the piece is a warm but unstinting look at the burdens and rewards of caring for a loved one with special needs—like a less dark but no less doleful Joe Egg. I look forward to hearing more from Kinnear.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company. By Rory Kinnear. Directed by Frank Galati. With Cliff Chamberlain, Audrey Francis, Francis Guinan, John Mahoney, Molly Regan, Lois Smith. Running time: 1hr 45mins; no intermission.