In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review the New York premiere of Donald Margulies’ latest play, The Country House. Here’s an excerpt.
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The backstage play, in which the private lives of theater people are put onstage for the world to see, is one of the diciest of dramatic genres. As much as those who work in the theater love seeing themselves turned into more or less fictional characters, such plays run to self-indulgence, and the truer to life they are, the less likely that “civilians” (the theater-world term for outsiders) will understand more than a sliver of the inside-baseball talk with which they’re typically salted. Not so “The Country House,” in which Donald Margulies shows us three tense days in the life of a theatrical family. Far from being self-indulgent, it is one of the most disciplined and satisfying new American plays to reach Broadway in the past decade.
“The Country House” is the kind of play that is too often dismissively described as “well made,” meaning that its structure is straightforward and its dramaturgy conventional (up to and including a stop-press surprise that rings down the second-act curtain with a gasp). Taking as his point of departure Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” Mr. Margulies presents us with six characters whose lives are so tightly interwoven that you all but need a chart to explain how they fit together…
Put them all in the same country house and you have a surefire formula for friction. Much of what happens thereafter is roughly what you’d expect, but Mr. Margulies makes it new by portraying their collective difficulties with just the right mixture of honesty and sympathy….
Daniel Sullivan has staged the play with an ungimmicky simplicity that allows each one to shine in turn—but it is the author who makes them real. If “The Country House” is a backstage drama by virtue of its setting, its actual subject is how the members of a close family can hurt one another without meaning to do so. You needn’t have done time on the far side of the proscenium to know all about that…
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Read the whole thing here.
A scene from The Country House: