For Heaven's Sake
by Anthony Chase
The Ties That Bind Too Tightly
The virtues of Laura Pedersen’s play, For Heaven’s Sake, which opens the season at 710 Main Theatre are apparent. The playwright has a true gift for comedy and her funny bone is unmistakably connected to her Buffalo-born heart. From the very first descriptions of the play, we all knew what to expect: The Kilgannons are a typical Irish Catholic family in 1974 Buffalo. With the world outside changing fast and the generation gap widening, the future is up for grabs. Will the Kilgannons find the serenity to accept the things they cannot change and the wisdom to know that what needs changing most is sitting around the dinner table?”
Ah yes, the ties that bind us too tightly!
With a play peppered with nostalgic Buffalo references at every turn, Pedersen has not disappointed. I’m told that in the transfer of this script from the Cherry Lane Theatre off-Broadway, to 710 Main, she upped the ante for local flavor. The name of a former Buffalo mayor or a mention of the Comet at Crystal Beach wouldn’t get a chuckle in Greenwich Village; on Main Street Buffalo, they inspire peals of giddy laughter. The opening night audience also clearly enjoyed hearing the distinctive working class Buffalo accent reflected back to us and exaggerated in a way many of us have not heard since Ray Flynn’s and Your Host closed.
The set up for the play is simple. A special occasion in honor of Dad brings the adult children home. The Catholic upbringing that is the source of so many happy memories turns out to be the cause of some adulthood angst in a changing world.
The strength of the production rests largely on the talents of two remarkable actresses: Kate Kearney-Patch who plays the mother, and Paula Ewin who plays her sister-in-law, Aunt Mary. These two generate as much endearing comic chemistry as Lucy and Ethel as they lovingly repress their families into near dysfunction. The tenderly repressive sentiments of these women inspired some of the evening’s heartiest laughter.
The adult problems of the Kilgannon children are rather predictable—the gay son; the daughter who has terminated a pregnancy and is now engaged to a Jewish divorcee; and so forth. The issue is not so much the predictability of the concerns as it is their blunt introduction. In such a light confection of play, one might hope for a less heavy treatment of these issues. There is a lot of whining going on. In the final moments, however, all is redeemed as we learn whether Joyce Kilgannon’s big and open Irish Catholic heart will allow her to embrace her children with love and take a step into the modern world. I won’t spoil it for you; you can guess.
The acting is uniformly good, and most of the New York cast has come to Buffalo to reprise their performances. Kendall Rileigh as Kathleen; James Michael Lambert as Jimmy; Daniel J. Self as Dennis, Peter Davenport as Ed, the father are all splendid. Pedersen has established the characters very effectively with broad strokes and we feel that we know these people.
Ludovica Villar-Hauser has directed with an even and arguably loving hand, delivering a production that is pleasingly paced and engaging.
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