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Rivalries, attractions source of comedy in 'Country House' at The Rep in Oakland

| Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Jeff Swensen
David Cabot and Cary Anne Spear star in The REP's production of 'The Country House.'

Anyone who has spent time around actors and other theater artists knows that gathering them together for an extended visit in a country house is bound to lead to social mayhem.

Egos, personalities and agendas clash.

Drama queens and alpha males accustomed to being center stage vie for attention.

Insecurities and wounds bubble to the surface.

Old rivalries and attractions rekindle.

Playwright Donald Margulies mines potential for comedy and drama that results from these combustible personalities in his latest play, “The Country House,” which opens the season for The Rep on Sept. 3 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

Many of the reviews written after the play's 2014 world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and its New York premiere at the Manhattan Theatre Club noted its references to plays by Anton Chekhov and Noel Coward, says John Amplas who is directing The Rep's production.

But other reasons motivated Amplas to direct it.

“I thought it was a really tight, well-written family drama,” says Amplas, who is also The Rep's associate artistic director. “Any family can relate to it and understand it.”

“The Country House” revolves around a multi-generational family of theater artists who gather at their Massachusetts summer home near the Williamstown Theater Festival to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Kathy, a much-loved sister, daughter and wife and a film star who died of cancer at 41.

But distractions and interruptions derail that intention almost immediately.

Anna, the family's matriarch and a dwindling but still impressive Broadway star, has invited Michael, a now-famous television actor with whom she once worked, to move in while his apartment is fumigated.

Kathy's widowed husband, Walter, a successful film director, has brought along his new girlfriend, Nell, an actress who once had a brief relationship with Walter's brother Elliott, an embittered, hapless, sometime actor ne'er-do-well.

Susie, Walter's daughter and the family's only non-theater person, is not happy that her dad is planning to marry Nell.

“I recognize the appetites, the family part of it,” Amplas says. “There are themes of dealing with grief, ageism, mother-son relationships — all these relationships I recognize in my own family.

“As tempers flare, the play offers moments of both humor and pathos,” Amplas says.

“One of the first things I told the cast was: ‘It's a comedy. Let's look for the humor. But it's also tempered with serious issues. There's a nice mix of humor, wit and pathos.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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