Review: Benefactors

Keen Company revives Michael Frayn's urban-renewal drama.

  • Photograph: Richard Termine

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    LAP OF LUXURY Turner, left, gives Lorette a place to sit.

  • Photograph: Richard Termine

    benefactors808WEB2

  • Photograph: Richard Termine

    benefactors808WEB3

  • Photograph: Richard Termine

    benefactors808WEB4

Photograph: Richard Termine

benefactors808WEB1

LAP OF LUXURY Turner, left, gives Lorette a place to sit.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

No matter what decade it's revived in, Benefactors won't ever seem untimely. Set in the '60s and '70s and 1984 (when it was first produced), Michael Frayn's richly eloquent memory play deals with an ebullient London architect's redevelopment designs for a slummy neighborhood. It could be ripped from recent local headlines, though Frayn defies expectations by zeroing in on the ricochet effect the job has on the designer's life as it is invaded by a couple he and his wife try to help.

David (Daniel Jenkins) and his cool, accommodating spouse, Jane (Vivienne Benesch), inadvertently become guardians to their neighbor Sheila (Deanne Lorette), the troubled, passively aggressive wife of David's old school pal Colin (Stephen Barker Turner), who can barely hide his contempt for David. As David's idealism mixes with egotism and needy Sheila leaves destruction in her wake, all four characters clamor for change and resist it at the same time. Alliances break down and realign as Frayn explores how much a person can sacrifice to give succor.

Dense, ruminative and complexly structured (short scenes alternate with audience direct address), Benefactors is an ambitious undertaking for a small Off Broadway outfit, but Keen Company has never shied away from challenges. For a production to rise to skyscraper heights, however, it should merge the scope of Frayn's inspired vision with subtlety of character. Carl Forsman's steady but tentative production and his able cast are more successful with the former. All enjoy some crackling good moments when they fully connect with their characters and each other, but except for Benesch, these aren't consistently realized portraits. Just as Dane Laffrey's set contrasts the warm colors of David and Jane's kitchen against hulking gray public-housing walls, this revival fills the theater with both splendor and discontent.

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Clurman Theatre. By Michael Frayn. Dir. Carl Forsman. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 5mins. One intermission.