Sunday, May 15, 2016

Blood From A Stone by Tommy Nohilly


L - R Frankie Ingrassia, Chad Brannon, Jossara Jinaro - Photos by Nora Graseck

By Joe Straw

Once they were a happy family.  The boys came first and then a little girl. And then things started falling apart in the family, I don’t know if it was the structure, the backbone, or individual family members, they just started in on each other, playing favorites, and what not.  They were a family.  They are a family.  Loving some, fighting lots, and hating more.  But loving, loving. – Narrator

LB Production presents the West Coast Premiere of Blood From a Stone written by Tommy Nohilly and directed by Thomas C. Dunn through May 22, 2016 at The Electric Lodge in Venice, California.  

In short, Blood From a Stone is a wonderful play by Tommy Nohilly about the stormy vicissitudes of a blue-color family struggling to make sense of their predicament.  The play is filled with pleasing surprises and exceptional moments. First performed by Ethan Hawke Off Broadway in 2011, this West Coast Premier version is the best new play I’ve seen in years. I am breathless, or out of breath, I don’t know which.

Director Thomas C. Dunn brilliantly executes all of this in an amazing night of theatre with a precision one rarely sees in this type of venue. He guides the stunning and creative cast with so much creative life that you will relive those moments the moment you leave the theatre!

One can only appreciate the antics of this family by just taking a deep breath, to not pass judgment in the characters, and then to let the visceral excitement of this comedy carry you away. 

Wait a minute. Was this a comedy, or a drama?

Travis (Chad Brannon) has got to leave. Home is not sitting right with him in New Britain, Connecticut, so it’s best for him to cut ties, as he leaves for the West Coast. But first it’s one long last goodbye.

Margaret (Joanne Baron), Travis’s mom, now folding laundry on the messy kitchen table, is happy to see him. She’s got lots to tell him before he leaves.  And as a kicker she wants to give him money, including whatever money she can scrape up out of the bottom of her purse.  She instructs Travis that he should also get gas money from his penny-pinching father, Bill (Gareth Williams), before he departs.

Travis reaches for prescription bottle on top of the dilapidated refrigerator, and twists off the top, for something to take the edge off, something he needs.

Margaret, living under this dripping roof, has got an edge in her voice about everything in her life.  She doesn’t particularly like her youngest son, Matt (Ryan Lahetta), who lies and steals, oh yes he does.

“What does your brother want?” – Margaret

This is something Travis cannot answer.  No matter, Margaret’s got something to say about everything including her husband Bill who indiscriminately replaced four tiles in the kitchen.  The white looking tiles, four of them, glow white in separate spots on the kitchen floor against the paler original grey looking ones.

And now the glow Margaret once had for her husband Bill is a flickering light, from a wick-less candle, on an old stick.

Suddenly it became clear that everything in the house, in this home, is in shambles, walls not finished, broken windows, false ceiling coming down, no kitchen cabinets, and a paint job that has been started everywhere but not finished anywhere.  This is a home neglected - inhabited by a neglecting family. (Set beautifully designed by Pete Hickok, Set Designer. )

Travis stares out the broken kitchen window and notices the beautiful house next door, the kids playing in the yard.

“Those kids should have been yours.” – Margaret

Margaret wants grand-kids.  Travis ignores her, staring out the window, coveting that married someone, that someone next door.

Margaret gives him something to do – take the buckets out because it’s going to rain.  Her hip is telling her.  Funny thing is that Travis, almost rote like, knows the exact spot to place the buckets. This has been an ongoing problem with no solution in sight. 

And as they work together we notice Margaret and Travis’ relationship is an oenomel, something that seems possible given what we learn about the family’s dynamics.

Meanwhile Margaret confides to Travis that if anything should happen to her, she’s got the Purple Heart and his Bronze Heart in a box. Travis doesn’t like her talking like that, the she’s going somewhere, if something should happen to her, etc.,

The phone rings – Jerry (not seen) is on the line.  It’s obvious that Margaret loves him.  The smile on her face lights up the room as they schedule a rendezvous.

Outside, a car passing the house has the loud Mexican, Latino, Hispanics, music blaring through its doors.

Bill, a man who toils wearily on other’s homes, but a cunctator on the upkeep of his own, arrives on the scene, angrily voices his opinions about those Mexicans, drug dealers, rapists, always stopping next door, making a pickup, and selling crack to his kids, noticing the buckets as if for the first time.

“What’s that?”  - Bill

“Buckets for rain.” – Travis

Bill says that he wants Travis to go out with him and Debra (not seen) for a foot long and a banana black cherry soda at that place on the Bronx, before he goes off on a rant about drug dealers.  Who, by the way, should all the taken to Baghdad, along with the terrorists, dragged naked through the streets before being nuked.

Bill has issues. 

Joanne Baron and Gareth Williams

Margaret, a nurse, and fed up with Bill for the time being, leaves for work.

Later that night, Travis finds comfort in the arms of Yvette (Jossara Jinaro), the Puerto Rican married woman living next door. Wearing only red bra and red panties, she joins him in domestic bliss, a tremulous glow, on the couch before real life creeps in. Further amatory speculations of this relationship suggests that it ends at arms length.

Yvette tells Travis that Matt has been hanging around with the West End Boys.  She just lets that slip, about Matt, before mentioning lunch on Tuesday at Chili’s.

Travis affected by her words turns on her in a manner befitting his father.

“You’re like your father.  You’re mean.” – Yvette

A tile from the drop ceiling falls exacerbating the heated discussion they are having. Travis doesn’t have good words for her drug-dealing husband, Hector.

“You know what Hector does.” – Travis
“I’m not happy.” – Yvette

Sarah, Travis’ sister, appears in the driveway and Travis does his best to hand Yvette her clothes and send her up the dilapidated stairs to temporarily disappear.  Sarah, in a nurse’s uniform, plots herself down on the couch and rubs her feet. Sarah has much to say and she is not leaving, much to Yvette’s dismay.

It doesn’t take Sarah long to notice that Travis has taken two pain pills.

“I can see you took two of them.” – Sarah

Sarah hands Travis an envelop of money for their brother Matt (Ryan Lahetta) before she discovers a smell on the blankets and knows that Yvette is in the house.

“Ho.” – Sarah

Sarah opens the backdoor for Yvette. And Yvette, without apology, ties her dress for all to see and admire before she struts herself out the door.   

Sarah’s has seen it all and she is not impressed.  But she’s got important news about their brother, her husband, her pregnancy, and other news.

What makes Thomas C. Dunn's theatrical presentation a work of art is the precision of the actors. Each actor takes the time to create and develop a moment.  And the actions on stage move so fluidly that one appreciates the dramatic interpretation, the delightful surprises, and the ineffable joy from the presentation.    

And whose idea was it to throw a garden gnome through the window?

I went to this show to get a better understanding of domestic violence.  Tommy Nohilly's language is sometime coarse; the violence tells us that violence begets violence, handed down from generation to generation. (This deplorably insane family will probably take me years to understand.  I may need additional therapy.)  But overall I came away thinking this was a very unusual comedy, and certainly the startled sold out audience loved the show as well.  The writing was superb! The play ultimately shows us the inherent exquisite nature of the good and bad in all human beings all dramatized by this one family. 

Joanne Baron is amazing as Margaret.  It is a wonderful tour de force. Hatred comes in many forms but love is constant and this is something that permeates Margaret’s character. Margaret loves her firstborn son. (One can only imagine if she sees the younger Bill in Travis.) She distrusts her youngest son, hates her husband with a passion, but manages to love them all during the course of the play. This is a testament to Baron’s creativity and her craft. This is a role, where her life begins in the middle, and as increments of information slip, we get the full scope of her character and her life.

Chad Brannon is also wonderful as Travis.  It’s funny how he is so much like his father.  This violent being thing does not fall far from the tree.  But this is not a life he wants, fighting with his father, not trusting his brother, not wanting to settle down.  He recognizes his life is in shambles and although he thinks he can control others around him, in reality, he cannot.

Loved Frankie Ingrassia’s performance as Sarah! Sarah has to impart a lot of information in this one scene she is in but does it magnificently.  Ingrassia’s style is grounded in a very solid caring character.  She is the one who seems the most normal. She wants to have a normal life, with a normal family, and a quiet religious exploration. And she is the central figure for all that is love in this family.  She is the one who takes care of all except the neighbor. Sarah is there for two reasons, to keep the peace and to keep her brother from moving away.  

Jossara Jinaro does yeoman (F) work as Yvette, a hot-blooded stubborn Latina that will not take no for an answer. She’s also not embarrassed to let everyone know that she is sleeping with the one she loves.  Not all Puerto Rican women throw things but this one does throw pillows and not her fist.  Glad to see that this time around she lets her words and her physical momentum do all the talking. And it is all great work.  

L - R - Ray Lahetta, Chad Brannon, Gareth Williams

Ryan Lahetta is Matt, the ne’r do well brother, a liar, thief, gambler, and oddly enough a nurse. Caught in his sublime puerilities, he is a character that will never grow up.  He is smart, but not smart enough to hang Christmas lights on a tree, or maybe he’s got other things on his mind.  And he is not smart enough to avoid being caught by his family, or to the thugs to which he owes money. He’s married, trying to get divorced, but already has a fiancée.  He wants to move back in with his parents, his life is in shambles, and his mother hates him.  Well, not really.  Not really.  What is really fascinating with Lahetta’s performance is in the way he convinces himself that he is telling the truth, but “liar” beams from his forehead like a Las Vegas neon light. And, not to let the cat out of the bag, this is a terrific performance.

Gareth Williams brings a remarkable likeness to the role despite all of the things that makes Bill so hateful.  Bill tries, not hard, but he tries.  He’s got emotional problems, hates a lot of people and things. But there are moments in Williams’s portrayal that speaks volumes of this man.  One was bringing in the shovel; the other was moving the cabinet into the kitchen, and still another buying a new phone. This is a man who despite everything, we know that he cares, even if he only shows it in small increments.  This was another wonderful performance.  

Terry Kovac plays Bill and Gabrielle Salinger plays Sarah/Yvette in understudy roles.  They did not perform the night I was there.

Rachquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners and Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners always work magic as Producer and Associate Producer respectively.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
Aaron Lyons – Sound Designer
Mia Rabinowitz – Costume Designer
Mike Mahaffey – Fight Director
Jennifer Palumbo – Stage Manager

Run! Run! Run! And take your thievin’ connivin’ brother and make him pay while you’re at it.  

RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-7788.

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