Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hunger"

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide


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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


Directed and Written by Milton Coykendall

Set Design by Jennifer Davis
Lighting Design by Mark Olivere
Costume Consultant Laura D'Aluisio
Stage Manager Jessica Martin

Chastity............Candy Brooks
Robert........Christopher Crowley
Father.....................Randall Frye
Hope.................E Grace Noonan

Of course, actors always invest a lot of themselves in their parts. But consider playing parts in a severely disfunctional family whose dinner table is a nightly battlefield of uncontrollable impulses severe enough to hospitalize some with psychiatric eating disorders and drive another to suicide. Then consider playing those parts as convincingly close to the bone of reality that only the mutual trust of actor for actor could possibly allow the cast to smile believably at one another after the show. That is the triumph of Java Theater's "Hunger" in the intensely small Leland Center space at the BCA.

In the late '50s a playwright would take the psychological essence of such material, and submerge it beneath the trappings of a naturalistic narrative like "The Subject Was Roses" or "Death of A Salesman" in which the subtexts would be allowed to peep out only intermittently. Instead Milton Coykendall --- who works as a therapist on eating disorders at Deaconess Waltham Hospital --- has distilled the general, unspeakable essentials of such families' experiences into a series of raw-nerve scenes that cut away all the insincere niceities of naturalism to show the thbing itself. Then he has relied on his cast to experiment and improvise until every word, gesture, and inflection feels like a sledgehammered truth.

Probably the hardest role in this play, that of a tyranical, incestuous, self-pitying father, falls to Randall Frye. He must be boorish, autocratic, scathingly insulting, selfishly craven, and shamelessly manipulative by turns, allowing the audience and the cast to hate his behavoirs throughout the evening.

Candy Brooks plays his eldest daughter, forced to play the role of her dead mother, to console not only her beaten brother but even her own father as though they were the children she'll never even contemplate. Her character bears the mordantly ironic name Chastity.

Christopher Crowley plays a youngest child confirmed in his homosexuality by the contempt of his father, until his consuming fantasy is to force a lover to "Say you love me!" in the way his Dad never would.

And E Grace Noonan is the family's Hope, who finally blows the whistle and allows these three sorely wounded siblings to seek whatever lives they can, finally free of the cage of family.

This play is a case-history personified, each element honed to its no-compromise essence, yet it is never anything but powerful theater. Details everywhere have been distilled to the most significant, so that the audience has no choice but to empathize. The whole may not be familiar to most, but anyone finding characters or events to empathize with will feel a cleansing catharsis, a final instant of relieving happy-end, and a genuine love-fest of union after the show with actors who can emerge from their experience mercifully unscathed, and with a tendency to smile.


THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide