Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The crisis they facethe true nature of which won't be revealed until act twohas the family mostly hunkered down at home, avoiding the news crews and photographers who wield telephoto lenses "like sniper rifles." Their oldest son Travis has committed suicide after committing a series of despicable crimes, and daughters Annie (Martha Brigham) and Macy (Emily Radosevich) have returned to Detroit from the two coasts to help their parents Mitch (James Carpenter) and Angela (Emilie Talbot) deal with the details of Travis's funeral and grieve as a family.
The cast features some of the Bay Area's top talent, the set is a suitably middle-class living room created by designer Edward T. Morris, and the affair is crisply directed by Jessica Holt. And though playwright Ashlin Halfnight has a skilled ear for dialogue and a sensitivity to family dynamics, his play The Resting Place, in its world premiere production at Magic Theatre, ultimately collapses under the weight of unrealized dramatic expectations, an unconvincing shrillness of character, and a narrative arc that fizzles when we expect it to explode in shocking revelations.
From an acting standpoint, there are almost no false moves. As the two sisters, Brigham and Radosevich beautifully fulfill the roles so many adult children often play when a family is in crisis, lifting parents beat down by a lifetime of work and responsibility, culminating in that worst of all losses, outliving a child. Annie and Macy each have high-pressure jobs they leave behind, and Brigham and Radosevich display a flinty, head-down determination, tackling all the gory details that accumulate after a tragedy. They butt heads, but never lose sight of being sisters.
As the grieving parents, Carpenter and Talbot are superb. There is a moment when Carpenter has to lean against a wall, his hands gripping a railing to keep himself upright that simultaneously encapsulates the mortal emotional wound he has received and the inner strength he summons to deal with it. As the Jameson-sipping mother, Talbot has a lovely, sloppy detachment that covers her pain with a sheen of pearl-black humor.
No, the problems here all land squarely on the shoulders of playwright Halfnight. As a recovering Catholic myself, I had major problems with the way the parents and children speak to each other. The Jacksons seem to be committed to their faith, and have a relationship with the local priest, but their profane outbursts and casual cruelties to each other felt misguided and out of scale, like an arson using an accelerant on a fire that is already well on its way to becoming a conflagration. It makes the anger and bitterness feel forced and false.
The story also feels unnecessarily amplified. Although Travis's crimes were contemptible, they are also sadly far too common to justify paparazzi staking out the house, or the father having to face a sea of "50 microphones" or a stack of front page news stories, or the police peeling tile from a bathroom in search of evidence. It left me thinking, "That's it? That's your big secret?"
Yes, the Jacksons suffered an awful loss, and they are seeking a resting place not just for the remains of their son, but for themselves to heal and move on. But Halfnight has made too big a deal of their pain. He neither shocks us, nor makes us truly care, and that's the real tragedy here.
The Resting Place, through November 4, 2018, at Magic Theatre at Fort Mason, Two Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15-$75 and are available online at MagicTheatre.org, by phone at 415-441-8822, or in person at the box office, which is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday one hour prior to curtain.