"His Brother's Keeper"
Fairly soon after Long Lost begins it becomes increasingly apparent that we’ve seen this play before. Well, not this play per se but one or more very much like it. True West, for instance.
It’s a realistic drama by Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies (Dinner with Friends) in which a black sheep prodigal brother—the one reflected in the title—shows up at his successful younger sibling’s office. By his presence, he throws the proverbial monkey wrench into an apparently happy family situation. Unfortunately, Long Lost relies too heavily on conventional tropes and unconvincing developments to make its mark.
|Lee Tergesen, Kelly Aucoin. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
Over the course of its 90 minutes, the play, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, examines the strained relationship between the wealthy financial consultant David (Kelly Aucoin, TV’s “Billions”) and the grungy, jobless, homeless drifter Billy (Lee Tergessen, Rapture, Blister, Burn), who shows up out of nowhere around Christmastime.
Manipulative devil that he is, Billy convinces David to let him stay at his fancy apartment because he says he's dying of cancer. As it becomes increasingly clear that Billy doesn’t obey the norms of decent behavior, we, along with David and his family, will have reason to question how true this claim is.
On the other hand, Billy isn’t the only character with secrets. There’s David, of course, who has had practically nothing to do with Billy since the latter was sent to prison for an incident that led to the death of the brothers’ parents. Then there’s David's beautiful wife, Molly (Annie Parrise, Clybourne Park), a lawyer turned philanthropist who heads an organization for abused women. Finally, we have Molly and David’s 19-year-old son, Jeremy (Alex Wolff, Heredity), home from Brown, a good kid whose parents treat him like a child and who takes a special interest in his newfound uncle.
The principal action concerns the insidious way in which Billy takes advantage of his hosts’ hospitality—his weed smoking, beer drinking, and loud TV watching are only a small part of it—until the seams in what seems at first a perfect family begin to split. His breaking of confidences threatens David and Molly’s marriage. At least, it seems to do so until we discover in one of the play’s most gear-wrenchingly hard-to-buy moments that those seams weren’t very tight to begin with. A long, final scene, set at a later time, never fully clarifies just what happened to the aforesaid marriage.
Veteran director Daniel Sullivan hasn’t done much to fire the play’s dramatic engines, which barely get out of neutral. Most dramatic, of course, are the confrontations between David and Billy, men who grew up on a farm. Their most interesting argument, artificial as it seems, centers on the contrast David’s capitalistic success and Billy’s aimless, Woody Guthrie-like freedom. Both actors offer acceptably realistic performances but neither of them expresses more than intense frustration when push—as it almost does—comes to shove. In the other roles, Parisse and Wolff turn in quality work,
John Lee Beatty has designed another of those tastefully elegant settings at which he’s so good, using three revolves to bring not only David and Molly’s living room and bedroom into sight, but also David’s office and an institutional location I’ll refrain from identifying. Daniel Kluger’s soft and jazzy scene-shifting music fits the play's look and tone, Toni-Leslie James’s costumes capture what one imagines these folks would wear, and Kenneth Posner works his usual lighting magic.
When all is said and done, Long Lost is not something we haven’t seen before. At the same time, it is something that we have.
City Center Stage 1
131 W. 55th St., NYC
Through June 30