Lamb, stove, fridge, sam shepherd at the wilma

Curse of the Starving Class (by Sam Shepherd, directed by Richard Hamburger) The Wilma. March 14- April 8, 2012. Review of opening night for WRTI, 90.1 fm

There’s no escaping the family. And nobody like a playwright tells you so it cuts to the quick. Growing up, Sam Shepherd lived on avocado farm in Southern California. His father, a WWII fighter pilot, drank too much. In Curse of the Starving Class, now at the Wilma, there’s a similar farm and father but taken to a particular and fictive and very edgy universe. Curse, is a brave, disturbing, droll tragedy about the American Dream Shepherd says he can’t define and doesn’t believe in— but knows is ruining this country.

Credit and booze have ruined Curse’s Weston Tate, a man who couldn’t figure out the ‘jumps,’ from one stage of life to another so he’s hiding out in drink and speculators’ scams. He’s embittered wife Ella who dreams of selling out and taking the kids to Europe no matter that they don’t want to go. Daughter Emma’s the Tate voice of sanity and reason– even when the latter day Annie Oakley stages her own barroom shootout against her father’s enemies. Kiera Keeley’s a firecracker in the virtuoso role.  Nate Miller has many challenges as brother Wesley: An early monologue, quite beautiful, could use better pacing and nuance but the bigger feat is capturing the moods of a passive aggressive character who spends most of his time observing the father so he can learn himself. (There’s also a walk on nude scene and another challenging scene shocker I won’t disclose to keep the surprise going…Miller aces both.)

Bruce McKenzie does a nimble job as Weston the drunk but felt less convincing as the reformed dad. Lorri Holt is wonderful as the self- centered Ella who veers from cosmically ditsy to bitter in a flash. Her lines – and Emma’s – are the funniest.

You have to love the props:  A stove to fry up bacon. The (real) lamb in the playpen. The fridge that everyone speaks to. Empty always empty, then it’s full… and well, go see Curse of The Starving Class.