Inola McGuire reviews FAMILY MATTERS
American Theatre of Actors
314 West 54th Street, New York City
The performance that I saw is “Family Matters” an original play written by Irving A. Greenfield, directed by Laurie Rae Waugh, stage managed by Geoffrey Kinsey-Christopher; starring Valarie O’Hara, Ken Coughlin, and Stephanie Schwartz.
The audience sees a well-organized stage that reflects the setting, and it sees Rose Lynn as she appears and puts a few items on her dining table. The house telephone rings and she answers it. The caller wants to know if her brother, Ira Grower, is there. He enters the stage with his jacket on his arm and his walking stick. Rose Lynn and Ira exchange pleasantries between them, and she forecasts early snow.
Ira wants to drink a cup of coffee and his sister refuses to make it. She suggests to him an alternative to the coffee. Rose Lynn offers to make herbal tea for her brother! Rose Lynn and Ira remind each other of their limited interaction between them as siblings in 18 years. She wants to know why he’s so early. Ira wants to eat lunch at 12:30 pm, but Rose Lynn doesn’t want to eat before 1:00 pm.
Brother and sister discuss their family. Rose Lynn reminds Ira that he drank too much in his earlier days, and he tells her that she didn’t drink enough. During their discourse, the audience realizes that they grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Ira and his father had taken walks together during his childhood on Linden Boulevard in Flatbush to other locations in the borough. Ira tells his sister that their father was a very secretive man, and he informs her about his drinking, too. Poor Rose Lynn refuses to believe what she is hearing about her father’s life.
Now, Ira shifts his conversation over to their mother. He makes it clear that she was not the presidential material type. Yet, he talks about Brooklyn as though he works for the MTA. He reminisces about his travels down on Church Avenue next to the BMT subway line. Rose Lynn lashes out at her brother. She refuses to accept his writing abilities, and she reminds him of the days when he was unable to spell and writer properly as a youngster. Rose Lynn gets her satisfaction through reminders of Ira’s poor aptitude in penmanship, and his inability to become a Spelling Bee contestant. She refuses to live in the present. Rose Lynn’s histrionics of her brother’s inept scholarly potential overwhelms the audience, but Ira rubs it in to his sister when he reiterates his successes. He enlightens her that he is a published author and a successful playwright. Still, Rose Lynn refuses to believe that Ira is a talented writer. In her mind’s eye, there is no way to fathom this fantasy; but this is America! Ira employs his experience from his household, and it works for him. Now, he laughs all the way to the bank
Rose Lynn lets Ira know that their mother was not happy with him. He informs the audience that he worked as a long-shore man, and his sister reminds him about how he had an easy life. Ira was a spoiled brat! Rose Lynn leaves the stage! Ira shouts out to her! He wants to help Rose Lynn! She returns to the table with the food. Ira wants to eat luncheon meat! He’s a creature of habit! Rose Lynn reminds her brother that they always had food despite the family hardship when they were growing up in the same household. Ira recalls his life as a soldier in the Korean War. Rose Lynn talks about Steven who served in World War II. The audience hears how another person died in order for Ira to live and survive the war. He takes out a letter from his pocket that he received from his sister many years ago when he was in the military. Rose Lynn wants Ira to read the letter to her. He reads the last paragraph of the letter to her. She explains to Ira how she was angry with him.
Rose Lynn refuses to believe that Ira’s wife was a virgin. In her mind, Ira sampled the goods before he bought it. The audience hears how Ira had to forfeit his full scholarship after graduation from college. He had to register for the draft. It was mandatory at one time in America. Richard, an older friend of Ira, went to Korea with him, too. Ira relates to his sister how Richard met his death in Korea. Rose Lynn repeats her statement to her brother. She refuses to believe that he graduated from college. On the other hand, Ira’s lunch doesn’t hit the spot. Rose Lynn’s lunch items are not his cup of tea.
Rose Lynn lets the audience and Ira know that she doesn’t read his books. Ira tells her about his memories of something that happened to him when he was a young boy. Ira informs his sister about his sexual activity in grade school with his teacher. Milk and cookies were given to him after his encounter with the robber of his cradle. The siblings hear the bell. It’s Rose Lynn’s friend, Bea. She enters! She comes over to visit! Bea meets Ira for the first time.
Bea wants to know why Rose Lynn kept Ira as a secret from her. She informs Bea that Ira is her brother without the use of the adjective prodigal. Bea gets a rundown of the siblings, and she pushes their buttons to get more information about the family. The audience hears about the deceased sister, Sylva; who died seven years ago. Ira tells Bea about his interest in life. He says that he is a champion of world peace, and the brotherhood of man. Rose Lynn refuses to believe anything her brother has to say to her or Bea; and she reminds him about her disgust for gutter words. Bea enjoys Ira’s presence in his sister’s home. He talks about his food of preference. He’s a meat and potatoes man! Rose Lynn goes to the kitchen to get her anticipated desserts, and Bea and Ira continue to enjoy each other conversation.
Moments later, Rose Lynn pushes a cart with wheels laden with desserts without plates. She explains the absence of the plates. It is through her new dish washer, and she wants to know if Ira has a dishwasher at his home. Bea interjects to the siblings that she has one, too. Rose Lynn makes great pies. She informs Ira that she uses more ingredients than their mother. Their mother only had to work with $25 per week to run her household. Bea wants to know more about Ira’s life. Rose Lynn tells her all about the lack of Ira’s scholastic achievement in grade school. He had to repeat a class on two occasions. Ira was the king of left back in his school. However, the siblings remind the audience about their mother’s standing among other members of their family. She was a few ranks higher than the rest of them, and the rest of the family looked up to her.
Ira acknowledges being a self-spoiled young man. In today’s world, the audience refers to it as self-indulgence, and he owns up to being slow as a child. He was the dimmest bulb in the family. By this time, Rose Lynn reminds Ira of her contribution towards his scholastic advancement. She taught him how to read and write. The siblings try to take each other down with denials and lack of positive feedbacks. Ira reminds his sister about their trip through the Holy Cross Cemetery when they were children. For reasons beyond the audience’s comprehension, Rose Lynn refuses to recall this experience. To her, this walk as a short cut through the cemetery never happened. Rose Lynn recalls Ira’s accident at school where he soiled his pants, and she lets him know about his major problems and his slowness to grasp learning. Rose Lynn and Ira release their dirty laundry in the presence of Bea. She is intrigue by the revelation of sorts.
Now, Bea’s wants to know more about Ira’s love life. His cell phone rings! Ira’s wife for almost 60 years calls to check up on him. Ira’s life story peaks her interest! He tells her all about his next writing projects. Ira’s plans for his continuous writing career takes him into a sinister plot. He wants to write a story about a grandfather who falls in love with his granddaughter. Bea questions Ira! She says, “Have you ever written anything under a woman point of view?” He tells her of his pen name, Elizabeth Goodwin, with his name in fine prints on the next page of the book. Bea checks the book out from the book case! Rose Lynn gets upset with her brother. Ira tells Bea to leave. Bea gets out of the way.
Next, Rose Lynn looks at the book and she throws it into the waste paper basket. Both of the siblings apologize to each other, for she reminds him about Stephen’s life. The audience hears all about their father’s lack of interest in his wife after her hysterectomy. Rose Lynn puts on the music. Ira reminds his sister about her performance at Tilden High School, and she refuses to remember.
The focus of the siblings’ family matters goes back to their tenacious mother and her vivid imagination. They recall their travel to the beach as their intended destination by truck for a picnic, but the truck broke down on the highway to the beach. The siblings agree on the same memory about their road trip. Their mother orchestrated the picnic on the highway. Rose Lynn and Ira had a good time. Despite Ira’s extensive travel to different continents and countries, his father didn’t agree with his son’s travelling. Rose Lynn rubs in her brother’s short comings to him, and she calls him a sissy. He reminds his sister that the environment made up for it.
Ira bears his soul to his sister. He tells her about his wearing of his sister’s underwear, and his embarrassment in the boys’ bathroom. Ira protests a little further to his sister. He chips off a few layers of their family secrets. He speaks about his mother’s lack of love for their father, and he exposes her affairs to his sister. Rose Lynn refuses to accept Ira’s revelation of their mother’s short comings. Ira wants a drink! Rose Lynn tells him where to fetch the Gin and Vodka in the refrigerator. Rose Lynn prepares her own drink. They continue to share information about their family problems, and the siblings create doubts between them despite their ages on this earth. They sit at the table to savor their drinks together, and the audience analyzes their individual interpretation of childhood and adulthood. Rose Lynn disagrees with her brother, and he informs her about their father’s real occupation. Ira tells his sister that their father was a fence. Their father was a jeweler with no table at the exchange.
Rose Lynn rehashes her doubts about Ira’s affiliation with mob ties, and she demonstrates her concerns about his transportation. Conversation goes back to their mom’s mental psyche for being a dreamer. Ira brings up some more family secrets, and he states how his mother played herself in the script. Rose Lynn and Ira’s mother paid the price for being a mother. The audience realizes that the siblings’ mother gave her best out of her circumstances, the hand that she was dealt during her life time. Ira lets himself out of his sister’s home. Rose Lynn’s phone rings for the second time. It is Beth! She wants to know how Ira’s visit was, and Rose Lynn gives Beth her true interruption of it. She says, “Ira’s spoiled rotten.”
The writer surely gets his message across to the audience because the play is timely; and it covers all of the grudges and hurts that permeate among siblings from childhood to adulthood. Rose Lynn’s character allows the audience to reflect on its life and decision-making skills. Bea’s character serves as the catalyst that serves as a buffer between the siblings. Now, Ira’s character shows the audience that it is not when one starts out educationally, being a slow learner or a late bloomer; it is when one seizes to capitalize on his or her strengths. In Ira’s case, he uses his life experience as a writer.
This reviewer’s point of view: Family Matters is a must-see play for all age groups. It is going to be a life altering experience for theatre goers.