Theatre Vertigo at the Electric Company, 2512 SE Gladstone, Suite 200, 306-0870, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, $15
The classics: tweed blazers, covered bridges, major metropolitan newspapers and plays about fucked-up New England families. These things we can always count on. Perhaps because dysfunctional stories of Eastern seaboard denizens are a genre unto themselves, combining classic Puritanical values, the country in juxtaposition to the city, wayward relatives and academia. Amy Freed's Freedomland, Theatre Vertigo's latest play directed by Buck Skelton, is a textbook offering of three variously deranged adult children coming to terms with their absentee mother and self-absorbed, retired father.
We open on Sig in her Brooklyn loft, showing off her un-ironic paintings of sad hobo clowns to an art writer who finds disturbing meanings in the work. Sig, in an effort to explain the clown's origins and recoup her recently-deserted sister Polly, drags the writer to her father's country house for the weekend. There they encounter the third sibling, Seth, an anti-establishment, live-off-the-land type, and his pregnant backcountry girlfriend. Also on hand is Claude, their new-age stepmother who thinks constantly of plastic surgery, and good old "Dad," a windy ex-academic with a poorly developed sense of self. All ingredients are then slowly baked for the next two hours.
This is straight up, regular theater, and it provokes the usual responses of a semi-poignant, familial dark comedy: some laughs, some musings, some seat fidgeting. The actors have done their best with a canned script, but by nature the writing calls for melodramatic outbursts and clichéd dramatic conventions.
As Polly, Melody Bridges is engaging as an overweight daughter who can't secure a date or an ending for her doctoral thesis on the women warriors of Greece. Bridges is reminiscent of Winnie-the-Pooh in his pajamas, an endlessly comforting and entertaining image. Ben Plont as the freedom-loving, explosive-tinkering Seth also commands the audience's attention, as does April Magnusson as the stepmother obsessed with sharing her feelings and removing her wrinkles. But the few intriguing elements of Freedomland can't compensate for a script that should be reserved for college classroom drama exercises. ANNA SIMON