The Children at Pillsbury House Theater

Kurt Kwan and Kate Guentzel in The Children. Photo by Bruce Silcox.

Kurt Kwan and Kate Guentzel in The Children. Photo by Bruce Silcox.

Michael Elaynow’s The Children at Pillsbury House Theatre (through Oct 16), a retelling of Euripides’ Medea, is set in modern times with time travel elements enabling ancient Corinthians and Americans to inhabit the stage together. If you go, be sure to arrive early enough to take in every detail of the set.  Joel Sass has created a New England fishing cabin situated on the Atlantic coast which is crafted right down to the minutest detail. The dilapidated hut in which the play takes place includes cross-hatched wooden beams, sections of wall covered with fishing net, and a round ship’s portal for a window in the front door. Even the curtains look like they are seventy years old.

While you wait for the play to start you might enjoy the sonorous, eerie cello music used for pre-play background. Savor them while you can because they are the best things this evening of rehashed Greek drama, puppetry and contemporary story-making has to offer.

Not that there is any lack of talent in the cast which includes some of the Cities best actors. Jim Lichtscheidl and Tracey Maloney are just two members of the five person cast, which also includes Kurt Kwan, Kate Guentzel and Michelle O’Neill. But one wonders just what this fine cast and crew did to be hexed with this misshapen play.

You may recall that Euripides’ Medea is about a woman sorcerer who has been deserted by her husband, Jason. As Jason prepares to marry another woman, Medea takes her revenge by poisoning the bride-to-be and then murdering the two young sons she and Jason engendered. Greek tragedy is not easy to do well but in the right hands Euripides’ play is both grueling and mesmerizing.

In The Children a sister and brother, played at times as puppets, are nearly drowned by their vengeful mother. This could work, but this play is neither fish nor fowl, neither comic send-up nor serious drama, though it tries hard to be both by turns. It’s a mash-up of styles from campy toga-wearing histrionics and weepy sentimentality and sententious speechifying. For it to work room must be made for magic and mystery to develop. The playwright needs to trust the audience enough to allow them to reach their own conclusions. This is what is lacking in The Children.

What we get are long stretches of exposition that are not well integrated into this 90 minute drama. About halfway through, the play stops dead in its soggy, wet tracks for a long retelling of the Pandora’s Box myth. One of the puppet masters, Kate Guentzel, puts down her puppet to tell us the tale. Slowly, much too slowly, complete with props and gestures worthy of a school classroom, we learn the story. This interlude occurs while the sheriff sits handcuffed to the radiator a few feet away and with a category five hurricane fast approaching landfall.

All the way through to the overly-long pedantic ending the audience is bludgeoned with obvious attempts at humor and pathos by turns. Not once is a person given the chance to think things through for themselves.  It is enough to make a theatre goer toss her arms in the air in much the same way Tracey Maloney as “a Woman of Corinth” often times does on stage but this audience member just wanted to wail: “Dionysus! Oh Dionysus save this play!”

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