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"Family Week"

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After her teenage son has been murdered and her marriage has gone sour, Claire has spent some time at the Pastures Recovery Center in the Arizona desert, possibly the best but surely the costliest institution of its kind. This being, as the title proclaims, Family Week, her mother, Lena; sister, Rickey; and teenage daughter, Kay, are visiting, but her lawyer husband and another sister, for dubious reasons, are not.

Beth Henley, a specialist in kooky siblings, dysfunctional families, and fey southern humor, is at it again, true heir of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers that she is. We get seven days of private confrontations and therapy sessions during which Claire and one of the others read lists of grievances at each other, appending their reactions. These must come from a menu of primary emotions conveniently written out on a blackboard, in case someone cannot remember the six available choices. On the weekdays, it is all fear, anger, pain, shame, and loneliness; on Sunday, when Lena is permitted to take Claire to a restaurant (where such forbidden yummies as sugar are served), the only emotion is joy.

The play is decently acted by Angelina Phillips, Rose Gregorio, Carol Kane, and Julia Weldon under Ulu Grosbard's no-nonsense direction on John Arnone's first-ever inadequate set (though the budget must have been minimal). Economy is maintained also by each actress's being double- or triple-cast as also a counselor or two, unless that happens to be Miss Henley's notion of avant-garde playwriting. A light sign above the stage announces the time (first day, second day, etc.), and hearteningly promises approaching relief. It is not that the play is downright bad -- it isn't -- but one finds it hard to feel anything for these kooky-cutter characters.


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