ShareThis Page

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, or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.