Blood From A Stone
Written by Tommy Nohilly
Directed by Scott Elliott
"Try it now," comes the voice from the basement as the lights rise on a dilapidated Connecticut home, whose matriarch turns on the kitchen sink and looks relieved when water comes from the spout. From then on water, one of two abundant symbols in Tommy Nohilly's Blood From A Stone
with The New Group
at the Acorn Theatre (through February 19)—the other being money—comes in exponentially increasing volumes. Shorthand for the family's frailty, rottenness and porosity, water leaks through a hole in the roof and into the kitchen. The deluge of family disputes comes to a head during a spectacular rainstorm. Collapsing waterlogged ceiling tiles provide slapstick relief from quickly-accumulated tension. The house would get washed away if the family occupying it wasn't dead set on tearing it apart first.
At the outset, though, it's just the messy childhood home to which Travis (Ethan Hawke) has returned to make sure his mother Margaret (Ann Dowd) and father Bill (Gordon Clapp) haven't killed each other, and check in on his younger siblings Matt (Thomas Guiry) and Sarah (Natasha Lyonne). Cold, homely and worn threadbare, Derek McLane's set design evokes downtrodden and stressful lives, a home with chronic structural aches and pains from which its inhabitants also suffer. It eventually gets out that Travis didn't just quit his job in New York, but has been unemployed and popping pills for months (although, with this lot, his reliance upon painkillers seems sensible). He's headed west to start a new life, and stopped home to get some money—he's attempted this before, it seems. And so the cash flows to Travis like water, from his relatively stable sister, gambling addict brother, unwell mother and his short-fused father. Not often capable of expressing their love with words and gestures, they use cash instead.
The next-door neighbor provides another potential source of disaster, both because Travis sleeps with his wife Yvette (Daphne Rubin-Vega), and for possibly being a drug dealer whom Bill monitors closely. Unlike the titular district in last year's Clybourne Park
, this neighborhood seems stuck in the pre-gentrification deterioration phase. All these outside pressures help set off those inside. By intermission of the two-and-a-half-hour show it's hard to guess what more can go wrong, but pretty clear that things will tend that way.
One hopes that Nohilly, an actor and former marine making his playwriting debut, didn't draw too much from personal experience—Travis is also a veteran, though it's never made clear from where or when, but given the play's setting in the recent past we might guess the first Gulf War. Whether extrapolated from autobiography or not, there's a great level of detail and empathy for each character, a generosity towards the actors that doesn't always compensate for slack dialog. Certain scenes drone on in shouting matches while more sensitive exchanges quietly gather momentum and rhythm—two awkwardly, funnily quiet scenes between Hawke and Clapp are especially strong.
Throughout, the unanimously excellent cast elevates the uneven play. The sadly under-used Rubin-Vega and Lyonne both nail their scene; Clapp humanizes the fiery ball of hate of which he's in charge, while Dowd very nearly dehumanizes her exasperated mother. Though the show's about Travis and his attempt to remake himself before he's forcibly unmade by his clawing family, Hawke plays him with restraint, throwing off his drugged-down stupor and pitiful charm for only a couple startling confrontations, letting his co-stars come to him. Scott Elliott directs the colliding clan well, supplanting the imperfect script with powerful physicality. Nohilly makes an impressive writing debut, though a great deal of editing would have gone a long way. When the waters recede Blood From A Stone
might sink, but this production manages to get an excellent show from a so-so script.
(photo credit: Monique Carboni)