In a tiny theatre that seats a little over one hundred people, some very “tall” people are filling up the stage. 2econd Stage Theatre’s latest piece, The Talls, takes a journey back to the 1970s to explore the life issues of love, sexuality, politics, and family. With strong relationships being formed, interesting plot points, and a nice blend of humor and drama, this new piece by New York playwright Anna Kerrigan delivers a nice and simple night out at the theatre. While a Broadway run may not be in The Talls future, it will definitely find life in quality regional theatres around the U.S.
Life can be hard enough without being six foot-something, so imagine what life might be like for the incredible tall Clarke family. However, height is the least of this family’s concerns when a family friend is suddenly hospitalized with a strong chance of never recovering – all while John Clarke (the father) is in preparations to run for office. After receiving the tragic news, the whole Clarke family rushes out of the house accidently leaving behind the eldest of three siblings, Isabelle. Within seconds, John’s campaign advisor, Russell James, arrives at the house to go over plans for the upcoming election. After a few drinks and some grass, Isabelle and Russell take their relationship to a new level; however, before they can go all the way, the family returns home from the hospital – each seeking help with different problems. Catherine and Christian (the middle siblings) are dealing with trust issues; Nicholas (the youngest) is starting to discover the wonders of sex; and Anne (the mother) is dealing with feeling that she has kept a secret for a long time. With all different events happening to each family member, the Clarke’s will have no choice but to pull together to make it through the summer.
The Talls features a cast of seven almost unknown actors that work together very well – pulling this piece together nicely. Parents John and Anne Clarke are portrayed by Peter Rini (South Pacific National Tour) and Christa Scott-Reed (Broadway’s Pitman Painters). Rini does a nice job with playing the stereotypical 70s father figure – “man of the house” style. It is interesting watching his struggle to support his family, reach out to his wife, and juggle his career plans all at the same time. Scott-Reed delivers a very strong performance – showing how a secret can truly change a person over time. She forms a wonderful relationship with the eldest child Isabelle, played by Shannon Esper (film Coming Up Roses). Esper’s character is facing the conflicts of sexuality (losing her virginity) and family (leaving them to go off to college) which causes this character to need a wide range of emotions. While Esper is not bad, her performance fell a little flat – never really changing her tone or range throughout the piece. The middle children, Catherine and Christian, are played by Lauren Holmes (Off-Broadway debut) and Michael Oberholizer (Incident at Vichy NYC Revival). These two work very well together forming the perfect brother/sister bond. Their ability to go from love to hate was incredibly realistic and touching. The stand out performance came from young actor Timothée Chalmet (television’s Law & Order) as little brother Nicholas Clarke. With a great sense of charm and curiosity, Chalmet delivers a hilarious performance that truly steals the show! The only non-Clarke cast member is Russell James, played by Gerard Canonico (Broadway’s American Idiot). Canonico does a nice job with the part, but plays it a little too safe - bigger and bolder choices could have been made; but, all around, a very nice job.
The script by Anna Kerrigan (film Five Days Gone) is original, bold, and quirky. While billed as a comedic drama, the humor in this piece is a little off the wall. The audience tended to laugh out of awkwardness rather than a punch line; however, this piece is creative, daring, and smart. Director Carolyn Cantor (Bravo’s The Green Room) does a lovely job at moving this 80 minute piece along with great flow and ease. Cantor’s direction is helped by the work of a creative team lead by scenic designer Dane Laffrey (Off-Broadway’s The Patsy) who creates a 70s living room complete with the standard orange and brown sofa and green walls. The touches of religious artifacts around the room really heighten the sense of faith and family that the Clarke’s share. Costume designer Jenny Mannis (Off-Broadway’s Dog Sees God) brings the 70s back again with hippie dresses, short-shorts, and retro suits. Japhy Weideman (Off-Broadway’s current All New People) makes some different choices with his lighting design that creates some shadows that are a little awkward for the eyes; however, a stunning job is done with the lighting shining through the doors and windows from both the outside an indoor lights. All comes together for a simple, yet nice piece of theatre.
The Talls is running at 2econd Stage Theatre’s Uptown theatre space through August 27, 2011. This world primer is a simple piece that looks into the hardships that many Americans face today (even with the piece set in the 1970s). The Talls is a small piece with a very large (or tall) heart.