Greenberg’s 1997 play is perhaps most famous as the unfortunate vehicle for the 2006 Broadway production, in which Julia Roberts made a wooden attempt at translating her onscreen charm to stage. It’s an indignity that BackStage greatly remedies with the thoughtful and spirited production demanded by Greenberg’s lovely script.
Greenberg’s plot treads well-worn paths of inheritance and identity between generations. Siblings Walker (Roberts) and Nan (Ward-Hays) divide the estate of their late father, Ned, whose 1960s “Janeway House” rocketed him and his partner Theo to stardom as New York architects. When Ned leaves the house to Theo’s son Pip (Bozzuto), it sets off a string of recriminations that lends the first act rapid verbal flow and tense emotional fireworks.
The second act is a structural gamble, flashing back to the early ’60s, where Ned and Theo struggle to hit it big while Ned harbors secret love for Theo’s gal Lina; the cast returns to play the parents. This sort of temporal trick often falls flat, but in a testament to both Greenberg and the talented actors it unfolds here with slow and humanizing melancholy, a love story focused on the beauty that time and circumstance destroy, not the destruction itself.
Director Reeder has a feel for mood and never lets a moment go to waste, while Brandon Wardell’s set and lighting move gracefully between eras. The knockout cast is uniquely dialed into the script and one another, its interplay the highlight of a show that proves the present is prelude to the past.