Much more objectionable is David Marshall Grant’s Current Events at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage II. This is a play about transplanted Manhattanites in a spiffy Connecticut house. Diana, a former model, is the (unbeknownst to him) adoptive mother of 15-year-old Ethan, a clever but obnoxious brat now on the ninth day of a hunger strike, mainly to find out who his birth father is. There is also Eleanor, Diana’s wheelchair-bound but very active mother, officious and (unintendedly, I think) a pontificating bore. A visitor from California is Diana’s brother, Adam, who is running for Congress, accompanied by his young, smarmily solicitous secretary, Jamie. Often dropping in is Danny, Ethan’s awkward classmate and only, adoring friend.
Everybody is concerned about Ethan (who is rather too chipper after so long a fast), bristling with assorted hostilities, griping about all save Danny, and refusing food from the alternatingly anxious and exasperated Diana and Adam. This is largely Jewish family comedy with everyone in everyone else’s hair, though most of the contentiousness seems laboriously excogitated. Also political comedy, with Ethan’s rant directed against politicians and government in general, and Adam in particular. And it is also coming-out comedy of a most unpersuasive sort.
Jamie appears so gay that even Ethan takes him for such. But he is not, and has a brief – and rather unbelievable – moment of flirtation with Diana. Most absurdly, it is he who, having won Ethan’s friendship, persuades the boy to come out and teaches him how to become Danny’s happy lover. There is such a mixture of coyness, prurience, and factitiousness about this as to make it even less palatable than the elaborate plot twists about Ethan’s parenting and other deep, dark, and wholly uninteresting secrets from the past.
The wit is forced and mostly charmless, with a smart-ass odor that ratifies and reinforces one’s indifference to the characters. Grant’s previous effort, Snakebit, had some of the same undesirable features, but felt less elucubrated and vacuous than this one. Also more adult.
David Petrarca’s direction tries to churn up maximum excitement but can do little to make the characters more graceful, the situations less grating. It is hard to assess performances when the dramatis personae are so unpersonable, unbelievable, and, above all, unmemorable. Christine Ebersole, a nimble, elegant actress, is bogged down in Diana’s trials and travails; Jon Tenney, a handsome, intelligent actor, must turn brash and shrill for Adam. The usually spicy and spirited Barbara Barrie (Eleanor) is reduced to a ploddingly overdeliberate performance, proudly underlining lines that should be thrown away. Jeremy Hollingworth does what he can for Jamie, and Seth Kirschner (Danny) manages at least to be ordinary while John Gallagher Jr. (Ethan) pushes every button with infuriating consistency.
The excellent Derek McLane has designed a most appetizing home, which the no less outstanding Brian MacDevitt has cozily lighted. Scrupulous costuming too, by Jane Greenwood, and decently self-effacing music by Jason Robert Brown. What a waste!