OPENNESS, TRUST, AND TANGO The touring musical is held together by the ’til-death-do-us-part-and-maybe-not-even-then obsession between Addams Family parents Gomez and Morticia.
Contained in their haunted-house black humor, Charles Addams's original Addams Family cartoons seemed intended as a sly critique of boring suburbia and an affirmation of quirky, alternative lifestyles. The Broadway-musical theater version (on tour in Boston at the Shubert Theatre through February 19) dials that concept up a notch by placing the family's dilapidated mansion smack dab in the middle of Central Park in New York City. Jerry Zaks has given the tour version of the musical a bit of a makeover since its original Broadway version, which had been helmed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch and panned by critics. This new rewrite has given the actors a bit more drama to chew on, along with a heaping helping of commentary on how to have a healthy marriage and a happy family.
Addams daughter Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson) has grown up a bit since last we saw her, switching out her severe black braids for a soft bob — a more appropriate look for a twentysomething goth girl. And although Wednesday still murders birds with her crossbow and tortures her little brother Pugsley, she's also managed to snag a boyfriend: Lucas (Brian Justin Crumb), originally from Ohio but attending college in New York and growing into a scruffy bohemian with a taste for the macabre . . . and, thus, a taste for Wednesday.
But the real story is not about these two young lovers, although their innocent (and sometimes sadomasochistic) devotion for one another provides a fitting backdrop for the two more mature love stories in this piece: the 'til-death-do-us-part-and-maybe-not-even-then obsession between Addams Family parents Gomez and Morticia, and the loveless marriage between Lucas's parents, Alice and Mal Beineke.
Although the plot kicks off with Wednesday's engagement to Lucas, the true protagonist is her father Gomez, gloriously essayed by Douglas Sills, who shifts gears on a dime from gleeful and grisly one-liners to heart-wrenching fatherly tenderness. When Wednesday tells her father her plans to marry Lucas, she makes him promise not to tell her mother Morticia (played at the matinee I attended by understudy Samantha Shafer in place of Sara Gettelfinger). Gomez fears Morticia's anger, however, since their agreement not to keep secrets from each other is what binds their marriage. Well, that, and frequent tango dancing — and, it's strongly implied, frequent lovemaking.
This emphasis on openness, trust, and, uh, tango definitely distinguishes the Addams from the Beinekes. The Addams's ramshackle mansion full of giant spiders, under-bed monsters, and off-kilter extended family members also unnerves Alice and Mal Beineke (Crista Moore and Patrick Oliver Jones), but the real trouble between the two adult couples comes from their cultural, political, and emotional differences.
By placing the Addams Family in New York City, the show's writers — Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice — must have hoped to emphasize the rift between Manhattan liberals and "real" Americans like the Ohioan Beinekes. One of Mal's first lines is a racist joke about the Arab cab driver who drove his family to the mansion. When Gomez sweeps into the room with a string of stories about his Spanish family's immigration to the United States, he dispels any doubts we might have had about the show's point of view. Meanwhile, Alice Beineke keeps spurting platitudes and sugary poems in an effort to convince both her husband and her hosts that she's happy as a clam being a housewife; all the while, it becomes increasingly obvious that playing "normal" has been the downfall of the Beineke family.