The Lanyard deftly handles dysfunction
A therapist can't babble, Lawrence Kimball tells us. In fact, a therapist shouldn't even speak much; his job is to listen to other people's lives babbling by. True to popular stereotype, though, Lawrence (Giuseppe Barbarino) — a therapist but not a doctor — has at least as many pressing repressions as do the Friedbergs, the enjoyably dysfunctional family that forces itself under his psychological care. What's more, Lawrence starts seeing — and sometimes speaking to — his own familial poltergeists that have been triggered by the Friedbergs. Therapy reveals itself as one obsessive business in Sid Ross's A Feeling of Family, which receives its world premiere in the hands of Michael Howard, for Bath's Lanyard Theatre Company, at the Chocolate Church.
SEPARATE TOGETHERNESS: I blame you, Mom.
Fortunately for Lawrence, and our own sense of exposition, he delivers plenty of monologues in which he babbles his own version of a talking cure. Then there's his wife, lofty and impossibly competent Johanna (Hannah Legerton), who both challenges his self-assumptions and also represents, naturally, a big part of his problems. To marry, Jewish Lawrence and the ultra-WASP Johanna have essentially run away from their families, and thus avoided much confrontation with their formative years. While Johanna is now ripe for starting her own family, Lawrence is still caught up on the family traumas of his past.
And so as Johanna nightly tries to seduce him into bed and fatherhood, Lawrence's head remains with the Friedbergs: father Jerome (Paul Haley), who has left the family, is a famous novelist with a flippant wit and an enduring fondness for boozing and women; mother Dorothy (Deborah Paley) is a quintessential JAM with separation anxiety. Sanguine daughter Joannie (Rosalind Eberhart) is about to flit to Florida with her boyfriend (Randy Chubbuck); and son Danny (Los Williams) walks with a cane after a recent accident in which he attempted vehicular manslaughter against his dad. The members of this family are quite a thrill for the psychotherapist. They are, as Lawrence dreamily sighs, "textbook."
They're also enormously entertaining, and the dynamics during family therapy sessions are beautifully, devastatingly scripted by Ross. In their first meeting, they flail hilariously, unsure of how to start — "Starting is like ... beginning," Dorothy philosophizes; "She's thinking too slowly, and out loud!" Jerry objects; and Danny contributes by formally introducing to the group, of all people, Lawrence himself. Timing and character are spot-on in these family scenes. Howard has done well in helping this fine group of actors surpass the sum of their parts. The aggressive solicitude of Paley's Dorothy and the practiced wryness of Haley's Jerry make them an interesting pairing — sometimes they play off each other with animosity, occasionally they fit with old familiarity, and often they seem to be in entirely different universes. As Danny, Los makes nice work of inheriting pere Friedberg's acute and freely-wielded wit; and Eberhart's Joannie, unlike the rest of her family, speaks bewilderingly slowly and openly.
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