“Anna Karenina” begins, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Meet the Moloneys, the family at the heart of Terence Lamude’s new play, “Kingdom of the Shore,” now being given its world premiere at Capital Rep. Stageworthy already, the script is nevertheless enjoying some tweaking as Lamude discovers what works and what doesn’t, and I can’t imagine a production that would give him better information than this one, under Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s crisp direction.
At the beginning of a June weekend at the Moloney beach house in Southampton, there are six members of the clan: four sisters and two husbands. By Sunday morning enough unhappy events have occurred to change the number. The sources of tension? The usual: money, sex, control, jealousy, alcohol, and old grudges.
Oldest sister Clare (Leigh Strimbeck), an attorney, and her husband, Worth (James Judy), have motored up from Florida with the idea of selling the property for $4,000,000. Delia (Lisa Bostnar), however, will have none of it, attached as she is to its history. Retired schoolteacher Joan (Jodie Lynne McClintock) generally goes with the flow, but she, too, is fond of the house and the community. Youngest sister Cathleen (Mhari Sandoval), art gallery owner and free spirit, wouldn’t mind the money, but she’s preoccupied with something else, namely Delia’s husband, Nick (Steve Fletcher).
Lamude has created a believable quartet of sisters with quite distinct personalities (Chekhov or Henley, anyone?), and for each of them to get her needs met usually means that a sibling won’t. Sometimes sisterly alliances shift, too, and those moments provide a little humor and a lot of heartbreak.
The opening of Act II, a lovely duet between Joan and Cathleen that gives us a glimpse into each woman and their relationship, is, to my way of thinking, the best part of the play. Later, Delia’s monologue about her year in Ireland also shows Lamude at his best: rich and revealing language. I like as well some of the subtle nasty swipes the sisters take at each other, offhand comments that come from childhood wounds.
About the humor I’m less enthusiastic. The scene with the sausage sandwich is silly; the tiresome running gag about the Irish bitch (dog) completely misfires when Nick punches Worth. The lascivious chatter about the nanny is frankly uncomfortable. Sometimes the humor comes from character, but at other times it comes from one-liners. In other words, I think there’s some tonal uncertainty in the play as a whole.
But the production is extremely confident. Vaughn Patterson’s set is 3-D and vivid. The various elements in David Thomas’ sound design are pitch perfect. The six players play briskly, but they know when to let some moments breathe. The appearance of Cathleen near the end of Act I is just the jolt the script needs, and Sandoval makes Cathleen somebody we take an instant shine to and about whom, at the end, we feel some genuine sadness.
In her curtain speech on Tuesday night, Mancinelli-Cahill noted that “Kingdom of the Shore” is the company’s 20th world premiere. She also thanked the audience for supporting theater that takes risks by presenting such new works. So take a look, and then tell Maggie what you think.