In "American Family" a woman returns to the playground where she last saw her mother, searching for the life she might have had. It's a memory play about mixed marriage in an era when such unions were legal, but not really condoned. This new work by Twin Cities playwright Carlyle Brown runs through April 7 at Park Square Theatre.
Again we have an instance of "did these critics watch the same show?" For some the first act shone while the second act lagged, but another claims just the opposite.
They do seem to agree that this premiere is a bit rough, but with lots to commend.
Greta Oglesby and Michael Terrell Brown in "American Family" at Park Square Theatre
We've all been to those plays -- the ones that sneak up after intermission and suddenly explode in a gripping dramatic scenario that stabs you in the heart. Playwright Carlyle Brown has managed that dynamic in "American Family..." Directed by Marion McClinton, the drama takes time to lay down an expository first act and then zeroes in with a focused intensity on a singular and fraught relationship. By show's end, we could scarcely care more for two people.
Noel Raymond and Gavin Lawrence in American Family at Park Square Theatre
The difficulty with a play powered by a forbidden relationship is that the attraction between the two characters has to be stronger than the forces that keep them apart. The action of the play says that it is, but the chemistry happening between Raymond and Lawrence says that it wasn't.
Megan Fisher and Tracey Maloney as the younger and older Mary Ellen in "American Family" at Park Square Theatre
Megan Fischer, who plays Mary Ellen, also charms the audience with her portrayal of an innocent young white girl caught in the middle of a racial vortex. She is the best thing about the production - conveying love, vulnerability, fear and heartbreak with a sweet face and a disarming southern drawl.
Although the play is meant to end on hope, the path there feels too phony to make the ending work - even when Fischer comes back onstage for a moment of charm.
Gavin Lawrence and Carlyle Brown in "American Family" at Park Square Theatre
"American Family" is an ambitious play, a laudable and moving production, even if it's not a particularly subtle one... Quibbles aside, "American Family" is a play whose merits more than compensate for this unevenness. In an essay published with the program, Brown is quoted as saying, "This is a new kind of play for me. I've never written a play with a female central character. And I'm exploring the American identity from an African-American perspective, but the central character is white .... I thought it would resonate with [the Park Square] audience ... [because] we can better look at issues when we can see ourselves on stage."
Have you seen "American Family?" If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.
All photos courtesy Park Square Theatre