The Gift Theatre. By Melissa Ross. Directed by John Gawlik. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Suburban mom Renee (Lynda Newton) no longer bothers disguising her ragey unhappiness with what life's given her. Nonstarter Gary (Michael Patrick Thornton) is 35, works part-time at a friend's comic book shop and still lives in his mom's garage. Fragile twentysomething Cassie (Brittany Burch) is seemingly permanently in pajamas, and can't let go of her buttoned-down lawyer boyfriend, even though she's broken up with him five times this year.
What the three share is a father, the unseen Martin, and a deep resentment of him. The three are half siblings, each born to one of Martin's three wives, and it's clear from the onset that Martin was a shitty dad whose emotional absence left his children damaged in various ways. But now Martin's dying of lung cancer, and his kids grudgingly come together in the hospital waiting room along with his current girlfriend, the gabby Gwen (Donna McGough).
Playwright Melissa Ross packed her 2011 play with plenty of meaty two- and three-person scenes, most loaded with explosive confrontations. These are relations who'd much rather ignore each other than be forced to engage; the script contains so many intentionally unanswered cell-phone calls, you might not notice for once if a real one went off in the audience.
The Gift's crack ensemble digs in to the volatile, often darkly funny exchanges to great effect; Burch, Thornton and McGough all craft layered, believable characters, and Newton does a nice job with the tough assignment of playing a woman whose bitter anger makes her tough to sympathize with. But Ross's fine scenes don't quite cohere into enough of a driving narrative; we see these family members arrive at a resolve to change direction, but we don't feel like we've been on the journey with them.