Mother/son Angst is at the core of William Inge’s “Natural Affection,” which opened this weekend in a revival at the Zephyr Theatre.
Inge wrote the play in 1960; it was produced on Broadway in 1963, with Kim Hunter and Harry Guardino, directed by Tony Richardson. “At the time, it really wasn’t as successful as his other work,” said Lorenzo DeStefano, who staged a short run of the show at Theatre 40 last March and reprises those duties here.
“A lot of people still haven’t even heard of it. But it is very bold, visual and wrenching. I think now may be a better time for people to look at these things--violence has become much more of a fact in people’s lives. We’re so used to seeing it now that a play that describes the repercussions of family violence is not such an abstract thing any more. It’s real. “
The story concerns 17-year-old Donny, who has come for a visit (open-ended, he hopes) with Sue Barker, the mother who had given him up for adoption. Sue lives with Cadillac salesman Bernie Slovenk, who isn’t at all fond of the intrusion. “So it centers on Donny, wreaking havoc on the tenuous balance Sue and Bernie already have. Also there are the neighbors, Vince and Claire--alcoholic sex-swingers, like the dark side of ‘The Honeymooners.’ ”
In spite of the early ‘60s period setting, the director credits Inge with an ever-pertinent theme: “It’s about lost love and the brutality of the outside world--how it seeps into the family unit, which is supposed to be the link that helps us survive.”
East West ‘Fantasticks’
“When I was in New York in the early ‘60s, ‘The Fantasticks’ was one of the two shows I saw--with ‘West Side Story'--that changed my mind about musicals,” said East West Players artistic director Mako, whose staging (with Glen Chin) of the ever-popular Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones musical opens East West’s new season tonight.
“Up till I saw those shows, I thought musical theater was typically sloppy, schlocky stuff,” he added. “But these were so simply done. You could appreciate the music and story. That’s the feeling I hope we recreate here.” (For first-timers, the story is “basically a re-hashing of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ except that the fathers wanted them to get together; they built walls and started a false feud.”)
Upcoming on East West’s season schedule: the premieres of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s “Laughter and False Teeth” on Dec. 5, Warren Sumio Kubota’s “High Tone” on Jan. 18, D. A. Tsufura’s “Origami” on March 15, and Karen Yamashita’s performance piece “Hannah Kusoh: An American Butoh” in May.
A Monster Mash
Halloween month gets off to a fitting start with “Monster Duet,” two one-acts written and directed by Ernest Kearney, newly opened at the McCadden Place Theatre.
“It’s an evening of monsters,” explained the playwright. “The first piece, ‘Dictyoptera'--it’s the family order name of cockroaches--is about a man at the end of his rope: he walks in on his girlfriend with another man, he loses his job and his apartment, turns to alcohol and alienates all of his friends--except the one whose apartment he’s staying at and has trashed.
“Now he believes there’s a white cockroach in the kitchen that’s getting bigger. Yes, we do get to see the cockroach--a lot . . . The second piece, ‘The Boy Who Loved Monsters,’ is about a young boy, the son of a powerful Kennedy-type family, who’s being taken to a prominent psychologist because he’s been accused of killing and eating his mother’s Pekinese.”
A character named Bugford is the evening’s host.