Ever wonder what it might be like to hang out for a weekend with the casually wealthy? Ever yearn to be part of a clique of old friends who sit around and poke fun at each other for small transgressions such as packing five pairs of shoes for a four day trip or dropping, say, 30K on a Birkin bag? Then meet the people of playwright Molly Moroney’s Kithless In Paradise now playing at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row. Hosts Tim McCall (David Wirth) and his wife Janice (Liz Forst) open their comfortable San Francisco home – as they do each year – to old friends Phil (Brit Herring) and Polly Barrett (Tracy Newirth) who come from Texas for the yearly shindig. Casual. It’s all very casual. The way they catch up on what’s been going on since they last met, the way they drink and drink … and drink. And drink. The way they bring up their successes as well as their failures. It’s all tossed off casually as they pass around the three thousand dollar bottle of wine and enjoy the hors d’oeuvres. Drop in on them briefly and you’d wish you were one of them. But stay awhile and you’ll start to miss your cramped apartment where the wine may come out of a box but at least you’re guaranteed a far better quality of kith.
As this quartet have their patter we get a rather complete image of who they are – while they’re all the same age and the same tax bracket the McCalls are a sturdier couple with heartier values – or so it would seem from the bits of weightier conversation we’re allowed to listen in on. Their house guests, the Barretts, on the other hand come off as at least a decade younger. They’re friskier (when Tim and Janice leave the room for a moment Phil wastes no time lunging for his wife’s breasts which have been on display and apparently calling to him) and just seem edgier and more fun-loving risk takers. Together these rich folks seem to know all the best wines, the up and coming artists, the best shows and the hottest investments. They’ve known each other so long that they can recall stories of high school, yet they can’t bring themselves to delve into a conversation any deeper than the eternal struggle of who should change the toilet paper roll. They’re all a friendly bunch, and while you’d be hard-pressed to find a nugget of meaningful conversation between the four of them they’re nice enough to spend an afternoon with.
Just when you’re wondering what could possibly go wrong here – red wine spilled on the pristine white couch? Someone tearing a hole into the precious piece of art hanging prominently on the wall? – Two more guests arrive. Ken Loring (Bob Manus) is another old high school friend but obviously not part of the inner circle. That much is made clear as he and wife Sandy (Jill Melanie Wirth) seem to hover on the perimeter of the merriment. Soon enough – though small and somewhat meek – Sandy manages to drench the party in black humor. Apparently the skittish Sandy can’t help but quickly mention that she’s dying imminently of leukemia. This dark announcement brings the joyful gaiety of the party to a halt – but only for a beat. Soon enough the chatter bubbles up again and while everyone seems as if they know they should care the truth is no one of this bunch can seem genuinely concerned about anything for very long. Within minutes Polly is distracted by the lovely sweater Sandy is wearing (going so far as to reach in and check her label) as well as her Chanel purse. Sandy’s comments about her illness are simply peppered into this conversational mix as casually as the previous ingredients were — and no one stops to consider any of it. Every comment is given the same weight regardless of worth. Even as Sandy grows agitated and attempts to make a sweeping confession (to relative strangers) she is brushed aside because, after all, there is wine to be had. Better to keep the conversation to cellulite and sports.
Moroney’s dialogue sounds real and flows quickly, however the story rings hollow as far too many issues are raised, only then left to wither, resolved only partially if at all. While director Niki Flacks moves the piece along with a comedic bent and an upbeat tempo there is still too much ground to cover here. The actors are enjoyable, but with dialogue which never amounts to more than cocktail party chatter it’s hard for us to come away feeling as if we’ve grown to know them, or what makes them tick. While we certainly learn that these people can afford to buy thirty thousand dollar handbags we don’t find much more about what has kept them close over the years, especially with so much tension right below the surface. Friends betray friends, men make plays at each other’s wives, women cheat on their husbands, secrets are kept with disastrous results … and ultimately the resolutions feel very thin. If it can’t be waved away by a joke, a smarmy remark, another drink, or have money thrown at it then it’s simply ignored. Apparently, if Kithless In Paradise is to be our blueprint, we are to believe that rich people really don’t process very deeply.
I came away from Kithless In Paradise unable to conclude if the play was meant to be served as nothing but a parody: highlighting the shallowness of the two-dimensional West Coast Rich and pointing out that money can’t buy happiness; or a sincere effort by Moroney that simply misfired. The big reveals which would truly shake a marriage do very little to either further the plot or change the trajectory of these character’s lives or their way of thinking. By the end, despite having lived through – or witnessed – rather stark developments they remain as cavalier and as shallow as they were when we met them. And while they celebrate this never-ending lovefest which brings them together year after year in a tradition that seems as solid as the ball dropping on Times Square, if this is what you become when you have millions of dollars, I think I’ll pass.
~~~Kithless In Paradise Written b Molly Moroney Directed by Niki Flacks Lion Theatre at Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd Street NYC Sept. 20 – Oct. 9, 2011 Tue – 7 pm | Wed – Sat 8 pm | Sat & Sun 2 pm For Ticket call: (212) 239-6200 | (800) 432-7250 or visit www.telecharge.com