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For some the past is another country, but for Amherst freshman Lily it’s situated just an hour or so upstate. A gawky scholarship kid, she’s barely escaped her industrial hometown and abusive mother. Yet, in Lucy Thurber’s Where We’re Born, Lily decides to return home for a weekend visit with her cousin Tony, his girlfriend Frankie, beers, joints, ill-advised sexual escapades, and ensuing hysteria.
An able ethnographer, Thurber presents her working-class characters with equanimity and generosity. They may indulge in brutality and bigotry, but they also prove capable of compassion and emotional intelligence. This is a drama in which local lout Vin (Jason Pugatch), who disparages “Chinks and niggers,” can also serve as resident raisonneur. Bookish Lily doesn’t quite belong among them, but she doesn’t fit in at college either. She admits to Frankie that she makes the rich kids laugh with stories of her youth, “but the more stories I tell them, the more I kind of hate them all.” Lily brings this swirl of confusion and loneliness home with her, upsetting the routines of her cousin and his friends.
Though Thurber’s adept at setting and character, she’s no dab hand at plot. As Lily’s disruption progresses, the uncomfortable comedy and occasional pathos give way to escalating histrionics. Repeated whinnies of “But I love you! But I choose you!” begin to set off nervous giggles in the once attentive audience. Director Will Frears solicits fine work from Sara Surrey as pragmatic Frankie and Tom Sadowski as conflicted Tony. Marin Ireland gives an earnest performance as Lily, who perhaps should have spent her fall break back at school.