Kindness

TOURIST TRAP New York visitor O'Toole, left, comforts son Denham.

TOURIST TRAP New York visitor O'Toole, left, comforts son Denham. Photograph: Joan Marcus

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Adam Rapp's female characters often exist on the fringes of his plays. But if the pungent, vivid and not-so-ironically titled Kindness elicits flashbacks to some of the author's previous works, its centerpiece is a terrifically robust performance from Annette O'Toole. She plays Maryanne, a cancer-stricken Midwestern mother desperate for joy, who takes her emotionally repressed 17-year-old son, Dennis (Christopher Denham), on a trip to New York.

Rapp (a Pulitzer finalist for Red Light Winter) again directs his own script, placing his characters in the sterile confines of a hotel room on a night that brings cold weather and a striking, mysterious young woman. A surrogate for his absent father, Dennis (whose relationship with Maryanne isn't so much push-pull as shove-cling) refuses to accompany her to a Broadway musical, so she takes cab driver Herman (Ray Anthony Thomas). Meanwhile, Frances (Katherine Waterston), a tempting impostor, rocks Dennis's world.

Despite clunky moments, Rapp finds a gentle approach to his characters' physical and emotional pain without turning sentimental. His playful side is on display too, particularly when he spoofs Rent (in which his brother, Anthony, starred) with Survivin, the tuner that leaves Maryanne raving. Denham delivers a finely nuanced performance, even if he doesn't fit seamlessly into his teenage role. Both O'Toole and Waterston deftly capture the mercurial nature of their roles. But it is the former, alternately fragile and feisty, and able to quick-change from gentle pussycat to chomping tigress, who unleashes Rapp's feminine side.Diane Snyder

Playwrights Horizons. Written and directed by Adam Rapp. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.