In a time when we are more connected to the world and the people around us via Internet and cell phones it can sometimes feel as if we are not connected at all. Have we lost the ability to actually have a heartfelt, meaningful, one-on-one conversation and truly connect with other human beings? Bathsheba Doran’s new play Kin, which opened at Playwrights Horizons on Monday, explores a multilayered relationship between Anna and Sean and their families as these broken characters all strive for one thing: real human connection.
One of the joys of watching Ms. Doran’s nonlinear play unfold is piecing together Anna and Sean’s relationship. Sam Gold’s skillful direction and Doran’s mostly understated text effortlessly evoke time, place, and location as the play jumps from New York to Texas to North Carolina and even Ireland over the course of seven years. Each scene in Kin feels like a patch on a beautifully sewn quilt, every patch revealing a necessary part of the bigger story being told.
Early in the show, Helena, Anna’s neurotic, slightly possessive and eternally heart broken best friend, is introduced when the girls are discussing Internet dating. Helena boldly questions Anna’s dating criteria, ultimately stating, “The very fact that there are criteria is a problem.” This discussion is the catalyst for Anna to reevaluate what she is looking for. As soon as words like “education, ambition, and money” (all seemingly acceptable traits one would look for in a partner) are removed from Anna’s online search criteria, in walks Sean, an Irish personal trainer who is dealing with his own dark past.
A phone call between Sean and his mother Linda, who lives in a small costal town in Ireland, brings to light shadows they both must face. In a brilliantly staged scene, Linda begins far upstage, almost in complete darkness. By the scene’s end Linda, brought to life by a superb Suzanne Bertish, has exposed her neediness, loneliness, and banishment from the church.
Bertish’s extraordinarily layered performance is honest, humorous and heartfelt as she (now in full light) uncovers all of Linda’s scars. The occasional visit from Sean and family keep Linda motivated. However, most days are spent drinking away the memory of a horrific attack she fell victim to years earlier. Linda’s inability to move on from this event eventually caused her husband to leave, thus abandoning Sean and his sister without a father figure. To see an older woman desperately trying to find something or someone to live for is simultaneously touching and haunting.
Anna’s relationship with her father, Adam, is relatable yet complex (to say the least). Their inability to really hear what the other is saying and their blindness to the sacrifices they’ve both made to make this troubled father/daughter relationship work is Kin’s strongest example of two estranged people. Cotter Smith adds a touch of gentleness and softness to Adam’s general cold demeanor.
Due to the death of his wife and because of his military responsibilities it has become increasingly easy for Adam to become more distant from his daughter. Besides the noticeable geographical separation there is a metaphorical wall of separation that’s been created by Anna and Adam’s bitterness toward each other. This wall of resentment proves to be a challenge for both of them to overcome.
A few other secondary characters are seamlessly woven in to the story. Bathsheba Doran’s writing is so expressive and clear that, with little stage time, these seemingly minor characters add depth and truthfulness to the play. Paul Steinberg’s simple yet inventive set is reminiscent of a shadowbox. He has created a perfect space and palate for Anna, Sean and their families to explore what it takes to make a connection between two people work.
For decades Americans have looked at TV as a source of entertainment. TV families such as the Cosbys, Roseanne or even more recently Modern Family have captured our hearts because these families echo the fabric of our society. During one of the most emotionally and visually stunning moments in Kin Helena says, “What we are witnessing is the birth of a new family.” Similarly to those great TV families, Kin has created its own modern family.
Inevitably every family or relationship will have its ups and downs. Expectations, intentions and perceptions play a huge part in how humans interact. Kin succeeds because Ms. Doran and the fantastic creative team have tapped right into these emotions and the human condition. This is one of the strongest new plays of the season without a doubt. Powerful writing, great direction, and outstanding acting allow these characters to love, laugh, cry, grow and most importantly connect with the audience and each other.