Natural Affection: in brief
An unstable young man returns from boarding school to find that his mother has taken up with a car salesman in a 1963 dark domestic drama by William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop). Kathryn Erbe and John Pankow head the cast of this rare revival, directed by Jenn Thompson for TACT/The Actors Company Theatre.
Natural Affection: theater review by Helen Shaw
Natural Affection (1962) isn’t the first Inge drama that anyone would think of reviving, so bless the Actors Company Theatre for finding this surprisingly contemporary work buried in the backlist. Unfortunately, our interest in the torn-from-the-headlines thriller remains largely academic. Director Jenn Thompson has badly miscast two roles, ignoring the author’s torrid requirements—there’s nothing so gelatinous as melodrama served cold.
On the page, Sue (Kathryn Erbe) is competent, desperate, fierce—torn between two violent men: her younger, live-in lover Bernie (Alec Beard) and her adolescent son Donnie (Chris Bert), whom she once surrendered to an orphanage. But Erbe’s wooden delivery (and awful wig) make her seem practically animatronic; Bert does a teen mumble that’s wrong for both part and period. Luckily, Vince (a wonderful John Pankow) lives across the hall from this tortured trio.
Wait till after intermission for his vodka-soaked attempt to reach out to the lunkheadish Bernie. The actor overshoots, and even in the back row, we feel ourselves touched for the first time.—Theater review by Helen Shaw
THE BOTTOM LINE: This lesser-known Inge play barely smolders.
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