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September 17, 2014 Published in Arts & Style

Black Hole

By Laura Fries

Black HoleTo borrow from John Green, some black holes are bigger than other black holes. There’s the inter-galactic black hole that can suck up stars, planets and entire universes. Then, there’s the black hole of family dysfunction that can suck in entire lives and relationships. Jean Koppen deftly looks at the later in her stunning playwriting debut, making its world premiere at Port City Playhouse this month. A bleak sounding topic to be sure, but Koppen’s script is poignant and funny, peppered with realistic dialogue and delivered by a talented cast. Audiences will find the play’s topic either hauntingly familiar or eerily prophetic. Director Joanna Henry has culled together a top notch cast to portray the story of a woman fighting the gravitational pull of family duty, nostalgia and baby-boomer ennui while, after the long illness and death of her mother, helping her father clean out the house .

Jane (Nicky McDonnell), is the practical, dutiful daughter, who has little tolerance for her father Marty’s (Frank Pasqualino) emotional attachment to every scrap of paper and memento in the house. Her patience is understandably thin after pulling nightly hospital duty during her mother’s illness, and taking legal responsibilities, while her estranged brother Jim (Brent Stone) continues to make himself scarce. Jane’s husband Drew (Lars Klores) defends her. A product of a dysfunctional family himself, he has a deep propensity for order, after growing up with an alcoholic father.

Perhaps all of the time poring over junior high journals and other family nostalgia has made Jane maudlin, but she tries to reconnect with her brother and his family, especially his teenage daughter Christina (Maya Brettell).  Unlike the lachrymose greeting card sentiments pervasive on TV, honesty in families doesn’t always lead to understanding and closure. Letting go is never easy, but Koppen poses the idea that some things can’t and maybe shouldn’t be saved—material and otherwise- no matter how sentimental one is about them.

McDonnell is great as Jane, both sympathetic and bossy—that get-everything-done big sister who may just be a bit of a bully and manipulator, too. Klores as Drew aptly uses acerbic humor as his shield against a simmering anger—one that once it surfaces ruins the veneer of a status quo marriage. Pasqualino is lovable and heartbreaking as Marty, the patriarch who just can’t let go of the past. Stone as Jim and Jennifer Lyons Pagnard as his Christmas sweater-vest wearing wife are great as the seemingly self-involved dislikable couple who hint at enough of a back story to make us wonder if they have indeed not been give a chance. Brettell as young Christina is simply superb, showing a stage presence well beyond her years. The show, which features a fabulous set chock full of fabulous memorabilia, runs through September 27.  Check it out so you can say Koppen’s very first play.

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