'Endless Lawns' peeks beneath careful facade
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” the writer Leo Tolstoy famously opined.
He might have added that those unhappy families make great subjects for dramas. That's certainly true for the family depicted in Anthony McKay's drama “Endless Lawns,” produced by The Rep, opening this week.
The play revolves around two middle-aged twin sisters, once wealthy, but now living in decidedly reduced circumstances and seemingly unable to reverse their downward slide.
McKay's play originated with an image and an intention.
His image of a man standing outside and looking up at a modest country house with an overgrown yard opens his drama that's having its world premiere with The Rep, Point Park University's professional theater company.
His intention was “a wish to explore what it would be like to be on the top of the social ladder and descend to subsistence wages,” McKay explains.
The action revolves around Torch and Flo, fraternal twin sisters in their late 40s who live together in a ramshackle house, not far from the lavish estate — with wide expanses of carefully tended lawn — where they grew up with their father, a famous movie actor.
Flo, a failed actress hates her job in a florist's shop. Her alcoholic sister, Torch, works at Kmart and is in a semi-serious relationship with the store's manager.
Their lives are stalled and co-dependent until Graham, Torch's boyfriend from her youth, shows up with plans and ideas that destabilize everyone's situation.
“It's about the power the past can have over us, that lure of old times and the danger of the past,” McKay says.
McKay is an associate professor of directing at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama.
When he mentioned “Endless Lawns” to Ronald Allan Lindblom, the vice president and artistic director of the Conservatory of Performing Arts, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Lindblom read the play and suggested it would be a good fit for The Rep.
“CMU is really an educational institution. We do plays that are good for students to do,” McKay says. “This is about two middle-aged people in mid-life crises. It's not appropriate for students.” Plus, McKay adds, “CMU has no avenue to get new plays produced unless they are by graduate (student) writers.”
“Endless Lawns” is being directed by Gregory Lehane, a professor of drama and music at CMU. The cast features four veteran Pittsburgh performers: Laurie Klatscher, Cary Anne Spear, Jason McCune and Mark Staley.
“The process has been wonderfully collaborative,” McKay says. “The actors asked questions and gave me feedback for a couple of rewrites. ... It has been helpful to me to clarify specifics.”