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Previews: 09/16/10- Close: 10/02/10 A Home Across The Ocean
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

Antonio Minino ©2020  Mark Emerson (Daniel) and Lavita Shaurice Burr (Penny)

Death and adopted children are two topics which can lead to self-indulgent sentimentality on stage, but not in Cody Daigle’s A HOME ACROSS THE OCEAN, presented by Maieutic Theatre Works at Theatre Row. Daigle’s play, keenly directed by Dev Bondarin, still packs an emotional wollop--but it makes you think as much as it warms your heart. In the play, a gay couple, Connor and Daniel, plan to adopt a child. They deliberately chose an older child.. As Connor explains to his mother, “They were very clear that some children had a harder time than others finding a family because of who they are. And I don't know. I felt. We felt. Like. This sounds so lame but... a kinship. You know.” But nothing can prepare Connor and Daniel for Penny, a diffident 13-year old who won’t talk much, resists affection, and who clings to the hope her biological father will show up and take her home. She won’t part with an ancient pair of dirty sneakers—one of the few things she has left from her mother—She thinks that now that she fits these shoes, this is a sign her father will come for her.

Connor, meanwhile, is dealing with some father issues of his own. His dad died unexpectedly from a heart attack just three weeks ago. He can’t cope, but his mother, the elegant, no-nonsense Grethe, is moving on with a vengeance. With nary a hair out of place, she cleans out her dead husband’s closet, learns to barbecue, and invites an old friend to visit. This old friend—Mhambi Nobhule, now a distinguished poet living in London—was Grethe’s first love, and a chapter of her life that Connor and Daniel weren’t even aware existed. When Mhambi comes to call, all havoc breaks loose. Connor is stunned Grethe could have feelings for a man who’s not his father…and Penny thinks her father has come back to her.

Antonio Minino ©2020  Mark Emerson (Daniel), David Stallings (Connor) and Lavita Shaurice Burr (Penny)

Daigle’s characters are remarkably complex. He writes people who are complicated, contradictory, and completely human. No one is a stereotype. Penny is a sulky teen, but believably so, but without any cliché latent anger or schmaltziness. Connor is self-dramatizing and selfish, but also loving and surprisingly kind. Daniel is the gentle assauger of Connor’s melancholy, but he’s also plagued by self-doubt. Grethe would seem to be a genteel matron, but she’s also a passionate person on the brink of rediscovery. The actors bring these characters to life with clarity and complexity. David Stallings, the artistic director of Maieutic, fearlessly engages Connor’s selfishness as well as his compassion. Mark Emerson makes an affable, dependable Daniel, one who desperately wants to be a good parent, even if he’s not sure how. Dathan B. Williams is dashing as the elqouent Mhambi and captures the poet’s latent loneliness.

Lavita Shaurice Burr is remarkable as Penny, making a completely believable 13 year old, and never resorting to cliché. Alex Bond, meanwhile, steals every scene as Grethe, imbuing her with charm, warmth and a bewilderment in her own ability to endure. Director Dev Bondarin orchestrates these finely calibrated performances with a deft hand, finding the emotional truth while never descendning to pathos. Each scene bleeds seamlessly into the other. Blair Mielnik’s clever, simple set design—a series of fabric-covered units that easily transform into chairs, counters, beds, and couches, with everything dominated by a painting of the ocean—makes the play’s fluidity possible. Rachel Dozier-Ezell’s costume design sustains a muted palette of blues, greens, and greys that reflects the characters’ sombreness, gradually giving way to pinks, reds, purples, and yellows as emotions shift. Dan Gallagher’s elegant lighting design also helps clearly define the many scene shifts, and clearly reflects the characters’ moods. In all, this is a consummately professional and emotionally affecting production of a challenging play that re-examines notions of family and grief.

Theatre Row Studio Theatre : 410 West 42nd Street