Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When 'Natives' come home | www.tucsoncitizen.com ®

When 'Natives' come home www.tucsoncitizen.com ®
Published: 02.28.2008

When 'Natives' come home
CHUCK GRAHAMTucson Citizen


Growing up is never easy. And apparently, it is never over. Invisible Theatre brings us the new play "Natives" by Janet Neipris, teasingly borrowed from Thomas Hardy's novel "The Return of the Native." Both explore the chaos of what can happen when your adult children come back unexpectedly to the native land where they grew up - ie., your house.

Of course, they still think it is also their house. So from your point of view, when does their house finally become your house? Will it ever completely become your house?

In the play's often hilarious dialogue tinged with the harsh bite of reality, one daughter reminds us, "home is that place where, when you go there, they have to take you in."

But in today's aggressive society of overachievers, everybody is determined to keep moving up. Nobody wants a home with roots. Nobody wants to stay in one place.

In our eagerness to acquire more wealth, upward mobility and a new job in a new location, we are becoming a nation of homeless overachievers. Like sharks, we have to keep moving just to stay alive.
Neipris, a playwright with grown children, isn't convinced roots are that important. The characters she creates in "Natives" are also native New Yorkers. They like living in apartments. They feel reassured by sidewalks. To these urban cliff dwellers, stability means rent control.

But growing up means being responsible. That's the part confusing Viola (Susan Claassen), looking appropriately harried in a punked-out wig full of spiky ends that reach for the sky. Viola spent her adult life being responsible. She raised three daughters who became independent women with their own rootless careers.

So in the summer of 1994, as "Natives" opens, Viola is ready to go rootless herself. She has sublet her Manhattan apartment and used the money to secure a country home in the south of France for a couple of months. She saw that TV show about Provence on PBS. She wants to enjoy that life filled with sunny pastoral afternoons, the glowing possibility of romance with cultured locals and a nice bottle of wine.
Claassen has fun portraying an empty-nester single mom afraid to trust her dreams. She has paid her debt to domesticity. She would just like to see the receipt stamped Paid In Full.
Just when she is about to start trusting the future, all three daughters come back home. Guilt trips stack up like airplanes over O'Hare.

Emily (Jillian Courtney) is back from a disastrous experience in Indonesia. Bo (Natalie Sutherland) - short for Barbara - is back with husband Gary in tow. They want to dump everything and start fresh. Joanna (Dallas Thomas) wants an equally abrupt make-over after canceling her wedding plans.
As the play is written Viola occasionally talks to the audience, adding juicy details to this summer of chaos. Much of the humor comes from watching Viola's reaction to all her daughters' outrageous predicaments. By the time Joanna has confessed she is a lesbian, Viola needs more than a handful of aspirin.

Don't worry, "Natives" holds much bigger surprises than that.
All three sisters are played by actors new to Invisible Theatre. Gail Fitzhugh directs them with her usual precision, keeping the humor from slipping into slapstick. All three respond by creating characters who feel like real people, even as their situations verge on the surreal.

After so much fanciful crisis, though, the ending is wrapped up a little too neatly. But by then, these four women have earned so much of our good will that we are pleased to know they will live happily ever - or at least until the family's next Thanksgiving dinner.

Grade: B