A disowned playwright embarks on a quest to uncover his dysfunctional family’s long-buried truths in Dan O’Brien’s powerful, poetic autobiographical memory play The House In Scarsdale: A Memoir For The Stage, now being given a superbly acted, directed, and designed World Premiere Production at The Theatre @ Boston Court.

Brian Henderson stars as 37-year-old Dan, whose latest play’s East Coast rehearsals offer the Hollywood-based writer the chance to at long last discover what actually happened inside the titular Scarsdale house he once called home.

Among the mysteries Dan hopes to solve is why his parents stopped talking to him five years ago, though truth be told, he’s not the only one of their six adult children with whom they have turned incommunicado.

Then again, as Dan explains to his 30something step-uncle Skip (Tim Cummings in the first of well over a dozen roles large and small), his parents did always have a tendency towards paranoia, depression, and anxiety.

Still, Dan can’t help feeling that there’s something else behind their silence, something they don’t want him to find out.

Not that there isn’t plenty in Dan’s family’s past that is a matter of public record. His Irish-born grandfather divorced his raging alcoholic first wife and then married Skip’s mother. His schizophrenic Uncle Jimmy once tried to burn down the family house. Grandpa’s children sued wife number two over his will. And Dan’s own brother has attempted suicide on at least one occasion.

Among the truths Dan hopes to uncover are those involving his father’s taller, smarter, funnier, more passionate younger brother Brian, the ‘70s antiwar activist to whom Dan bears a striking resemblance.

And so Dan begins to contact those who might shed some light on familial darkness including his sister Joyce, his aunts Darcy and Gwendolyn, Skip’s mother Regina, a private investigator named Adam, and a couple of psychics on opposite sides of the pond.

The House In Scarsdale could just as easily have taken book or movie or miniseries form, but O’Brien is a poet/playwright and A Memoir For The Stage not only thrills as theater, when the two Dans wax poetic (“Like a child molester skulking in the cul-de-sac, skunk cabbage and wild grape vines, scrub oak and mud-soft weeds we used to call The Swamp”) it exerts a hypnotic spell.

Be forewarned that reminiscences fly fast and furious as characters show up for their say (often just a line or two) and then vanish. Particular attention must be paid to names. And if you’re like me, it may take you till halfway through the play to figure out that there are sometimes two Dans on stage.

Still, for those willing and able to give O’Brien’s play their all, the rewards it offers are many, not the least of which are its two stars’ magnetic performances under Michael Michetti’s inspired direction.

Cummings gets the showier part, make that parts, and as anyone who has seen the actor’s Scenie-winning work in Need To Know, The Woodsman, and The Normal Heart, and Eurydice can tell you, there’s no more mesmerizing or versatile actor in town, morphing in an instant from flamboyant Appalachian to elderly granny to lunatic uncle to O’Brien’s real-life actress wife Jess.

Henderson, who impressed L.A. audiences in The Little Dog Laughed and Equivocation, matches his stage partner every step of the way, and even though he plays just one role, his Dan changes ever so slightly depending on whom he’s speaking to. It’s terrific work.

Scenic designer Sara Ryung Clement’s strikingly angular, monochromatic set provides an appropriately surreal canvas for Tom Ontiveros’s exquisite projections, a mix of misty water-color memories, animated sketches, and occasional words, and for costume designer Kate Bergh’s carefully detailed everyday wear, all of the above exquisitely lit by Elizabeth Harper, with sound designer John Nobori’s haunting original music completing the stunning production design.

Ashley Steed is assistant director. Alyssa Escalante is production stage manager. Emilie Beck is dramaturg. Casting is by Nicole Arbusto. Faqir Hassan understudies Dan.

The House In Scarsdale: A Memoir For The Stage will likely send audiences on their own personal journeys down memory lane. It is Los Angeles intimate theater at its challenging, rewarding best.

follow on twitter small

The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
May 6, 2017
Photos: Ed Krieger



Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.