Elevate Difference

Blood From A Stone (1/22/2011)

New York, New York

Tommy Nohilly’s first play, Blood From A Stone, treads the familiar terrain of family dysfunction, zeroing in on the return of oldest son Travis [played with anguished complexity by Ethan Hawke] to the family’s ramshackle Connecticut home. What exactly ails this prodigal child is a mystery. We know that he is jobless, broke, single, and addicted to pain killers, but the demons that hover near him are never fully revealed. At first, the reasons he’s returned home are also unclear. Is he looking for solace? Hoping for a financial handout? Or does he truly want to see his parents and siblings?

As the play opens, Travis is in the living room schmoozing with his bedraggled mom [Ann Dowd] about the many problems besetting their nearest and dearest. They’re clearly comfortable with one another and as they fold laundry, we learn that Travis’ visit is intended to be a short stopover before he drives cross-country “to start over.” First, however, this eldest son intends to help his baby brother [played with a perfect blend of surface bravado and emotional terror by Thomas Guiry], a gambling addict now heavily in debt and in the throes of a marital break-up. Travis also makes clear that he’s in need of quality time with his mom, dad, sister [Natasha Lyonne], and former girlfriend [Daphne Rubin-Vega], a now-married mom.

Crisis after crisis looms. While there is some humor throughout the play, the shouting, stomping, and cursing that are this family’s M.O. make it hard to watch. Worse, Blood From A Stone says nothing new about the dynamics that simultaneously cleave people apart and hold them together. Indeed, while there is ample affection between the siblings and between each of the kids and their parents, why mother Margaret and father Bill [an apoplectic, continuously-raging Bill Clapp] have stayed together for umpteen years is anybody’s guess. In fact, their non-stop exchanges of vitriol are perplexing and awful.

The tension in the home is stomach churning, and one gets the sense that this is because of both political differences and family history. At one point Bill unleashes a racist rant, telling Travis that the U.S should turn Baghdad into “a fucking parking lot.” He verbally assails Osama Bin Laden, and while his comments elucidate his character, they do nothing to shed light on the tortured dance he, his wife, and kids have been doing for eons. Instead, the audience is privy only to his taunts, tirades, and violent outbursts. At the same time, Margaret’s proves that she is capable of giving as good as she gets, but to what end?

By the two-act play’s denouement, the audience has seen brilliant acting, a fantastic set evoking homey decrepitude, and a lot of fury, which, in a phrase, signifies nothing. It’s disappointing, to say the least.

In the end, Blood From A Stone confirms what we probably already knew, that love is not enough to quell deeply held hostilities or repair broken relationships. What’s more, it attests to the fact that the way family members interact needs to change before new ways of being can take root. Sadly, no one in Nohilly’s play seems ready to make that leap.

Blood From A Stone runs through February 5. Tickets are $60 and can be ordered by calling 212.239.6200 or going to TheNewGroup.org. The play is being performed at The Acorn Theater, 410 West 42 Street, New York, NY 10036.

Photo credit: Monique Carboni

Written by: Eleanor J. Bader, January 24th 2011