Written by Bathsheba Doran
Directed by Sam Gold
"Nobody is interested in Keats' Punctuation," laments Anna (Kristen Bush) after another university press rejects a manuscript of her PhD thesis. "It's the fucking title, 'Keats' Punctuation.'" The joke about academic navel-gazing gets a laugh, but playwright Bathsheba Doran could be hinting at the type of analysis her new play, Kin (at Playwrights Horizons through April 17), merits. This two-family portrait occasioned by two young members' long-term relationship is full of precise, off-rhythm beats, surprising pauses and sudden accelerations. We know these characters by the cadence of their voices long before details of injuries and anxieties emerge in conversation. Anna, the rising Keats scholar, speaks in short, balanced sentences. Her Irish personal trainer boyfriend Sean (Patch Darragh) speaks with even greater brevity, and while Darragh's accent fluctuates, the consistently strange tempo of his speech marks his foreignness. Anna's manic best friend Helena (Laura Heisler) hastily jams pauses into her strung-together sentences as they fly out her mouth. Every new character comes with a distinctive voice pattern: Anna's military father's (Cotter Smith) efficient little sentences are just tepid enough to sound neither cold nor warm, and Sean's house-bound mother (Suzanne Bertish) talks in percussive bursts.
Director Sam Gold lets scenes breathe, adding the set changes' hypnotic rhythms to Kin's subtle mix of timbres and flows, creating compounding spaces and stories as actors wheel Paul Steinberg's box-like riser and monolithic backdrop across the reflective stage. Doran leaps between Sean's relatives in coastal Ireland, the young New York couple and scenes in Maine, D.C. and Texas, touching on various periods in Sean and Anna's relationship and their parents' generational anxieties. What she isolates in this very broad and generous play—better than in her last, the limited Parents' Evening—are those long-buried things that keep people who want to be close isolated from one another.
There are moments of winking class comedy, particularly during a sketch-like opening scene, but the complexly written, sensitively portrayed characters transcend easy laughs about internet dating, New Yorkers' dependency on therapists, and Americans' unyielding optimism (particularly acute alongside these defeated Irish). The New York-based British playwright gently tweaks the linguistic realism that's in favor on this side of the pond, injecting moments of primal surrealism that set the comic drama on edge. Portraits of thirty-somethings struggling to balance relationships, careers and parental connections are hardly scarce on New York stages, but Kin is among the genre's best, and Doran's punctuation deserves a good deal of credit for that.
(photo: Joan Marcus)