A Good Family

by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday November 29, 2015

Kelli Anderson and Alec Frasier
Kelli Anderson and Alec Frasier  

"A Good Family," playwright Marja-Lewis Ryan's third new work to debut at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood, following "Dysnomia" (2011) and "One in the Chamber" (2014), once again takes a look at an apparently idyllic American family rocked by sudden events that depict timely contemporary social issues.

Following "Dysnomia's" compelling story of a middle-aged wife and mother abruptly coming out of the closet, and "One in the Chamber's" chilling tale of a teenage boy accidentally shooting his kid brother with a handgun, Ryan's latest drama tackles the currently hot topic of rape on campus.

Recalling several recent headlines, the play examines the shock waves that permeate through a Missouri family on Christmas Eve when a bombshell is dropped: 19-year-old son Jack (Alec Frasier) is accused of raping a young girl, and the police are preparing to come over to arrest him. Jack swears his innocence, as the family struggles to make sense of the shocking news. Thoughts of salvaging the joyous family occasion intermingle with alternating emotions of denial, defensiveness, and a search for the truth.

Ryan's prior two extraordinary plays, particularly the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle winning "One in the Chamber" (for Heidi Sulzman's lead performance and Ryan's writing) escaped the pitfall of emphasizing social-issue tract over human drama. The 75-minute "A Good Family" spends much of its time demonstrating how the harrowing situation puts the family members at each others' throats, with recriminations and outbursts of temper, while the script gives minimal details on the specifics of the accused crime.

This would have been a solid way to go, if the one-act piece didn't ultimately feel less substantial than the playwright's previous efforts. There's a sense of a lot of angst flying around, without arriving at sufficient delineation of acceptance and realization.

As middle-aged matriarch Sara (Heidi Sulzman) hustles about preparing Christmas Eve dinner, her sister Kerry (Lindsey Haun) arrives, as well as 19-year old son Jack (Alec Frasier). Soon introduced are Sara's husband Matthew (Jack K. Linton) and their outspoken teenage daughter Lacy (Kelli Anderson).

The cheery small talk and Sara's panic over having made the cookies with salt instead of sugar come to an abrupt halt when Jack receives a phone call from the police department. They are planning to come and arrest him, as he is being charged with rape. He has to tell the family the shattering news, while explaining he had known of the accusations and thought he had successfully convinced authorities of his innocence, and had escaped prosecution. He had kept all of this news from them.

Kerry, a defense attorney, tries to calmly give Jack and the family advice as she quizzes the young man about the details. What follows is intermittently intriguing and moving, but the script ultimately feels underdeveloped. It's not a problem that we don't receive pat answers by the end. But there's a lingering sense that the play is more a series of tense encounters than a satisfying drama.

Nonetheless, Ryan's solid direction skillfully balances the escalating tension and moments of amusing family interplay, with the aid of a strong ensemble cast. Sulzman, Anderson and Frasier had all offered affecting performances in "One in the Chamber," and are again superb in this new work. Haun is credible and formidable as the no-nonsense aunt trying to keep the family focused on doing what they can to deal with the legal challenges. Linton offers solid support as the patriarch in shock and denial.

Design elements in the compact Lounge space are first-rate.

Ryan has proven herself an extraordinary playwright (and scored strongly in a superb supporting turn in "Dysnomia'). Her new work certainly has its pluses, but perhaps could use more time in development to make its highly charged subject matter more smoothly dovetailed with a gripping narrative.

"A Good Family" runs through Dec. 20 at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. For tickets and information, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://agoodfamily. brownpapertickets.com.