Saturday, January 29, 2011

'Blood From a Stone' Gushes Family Dysfunction

Gordon Clapp, Ethan Hawke and Ann Dowd are members of an unhappy family in "Blood From a Stone." Photos by Monique Carboni.


TOMMY Nohilly
picks up Eugene O’Neill’s mantle as the great American playwright of domestic dysfunction with “Blood from a Stone.”

It is his first play and it gets top-notch treatment by The New Group in its premiere at Theatre Row under Scott Elliott’s steady direction. The production is in a limited but extended run through 19 Feb.

The play opens on the disheveled main floor of a working-class Connecticut home with Travis (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Margaret (Ann Dowd), folding laundry and grousing about Travis’ father, Bill (Gordon Clapp). Margaret points out the broken thermostat, among other things. Bill, she informs Travis, won’t fix the roof to prevent the leak in the kitchen. These oversights and the prevailing rage in this household can be very dangerous.

Daphne Rubin-Vega and Ethan Hawke as lovers in "Blood From a Stone."

Though his family is unawares, Travis has come home to say goodbye. His perpetual wanderlust is taking him West. EH, best known as a film actor, is phenomenal as the son who almost got away – the outsider drawn back into the maelstrom. Travis seems even-tempered and sensible, yet he has his issues. He pops his mother’s painkillers, is having an affair with a former girlfriend (Daphne Rubin-Vega), and can’t keep a job. On this trip he’s taking gifts of cash from his mother and younger sister, Sarah (Natasha Lyonne).

When Bill returns home from work he pours himself and Travis a glass of milk and reminisces about taking the kids to a diner in the Bronx when they were little. His son, though, resists this attempt at closeness. Travis is a mama’s boy and the oldest of three children.

The youngest Matt (Thomas Guiry) seems most scarred by the bitterness in the household. TG is at once cocky, smarmy and needy. Matt doesn’t just take from his family like his big brother, he steals. His mother doesn’t like him to be alone upstairs with her stuff, she says.

AD’s Margaret is a loving mother but is extremely manipulative. She has succeeded in dividing her children’s loyalties much in the same way that she and Bill have divided their house.

Gordon Clapp and Ethan Hawke as a father and son who have a failure to communicate in "Blood From a Stone."

For his part, Bill is out of touch with his family and even his own feelings. He and Margaret live separate lives in the same house, separated by a long history of anger, distrust, and miscommunication. She curses him savagely even when he ineffectually tries to fix some of what is broken. GC, best known as a TV actor, subtly unveils the ordinary humanity under all of Bill's pent-up and intense brutality. “Blood from a Stone” is in part about this slow burn and the toll it takes on the whole family.

The growing squalor of the surroundings in “Blood from a Stone” mimics the family’s turmoil. The action moves at a deliberate pace. It rises to a crescendo of violence and threat, revealing its characters’ terrifying problems in small and intimate ways.

“Blood from a Stone” is a humble, eloquent and elegant work of art.

Visit to learn more about “Blood from a Stone.”

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