Theater archives

Oedipus Wrecks


Chekhov once observed that a writer is permitted to invent any reality as long as human nature remains intact. Beautiful Child, Nicky Silver’s new play, falls short on precisely this point. The story centers on Isaac, a grown son returning to his parents’ tony suburban home with a bit of unexpected news: He’s fallen head over heels—for an eight-year-old boy. A rhapsodic speech follows about how the young man, an otherwise successful teacher, wept as the boy “put his hands over mine . . . and then I leaned over and touched my lip to his pale skin . . . and that night we made love.” Apparently, this pre-ejaculatory honeymoon went on for weeks. Edward Albee recently tried to convince us that his protagonist went gaga over a goat. It wasn’t easy to swallow, but we went along with the conceit because Albee’s dramatic universe was clearly intent on exploring the irrationality and waywardness of Eros. Silver’s motive is fuzzier (though clearly oedipal in origin), and the erratic tone of this work (from broad comedy to Sophoclean absurdity) only exacerbates the ludicrousness.

The shame of it is that there’s much potential in Beautiful Child. Silver’s wit, always spoiling for a fight, probes deeply into the psychopathology of family life. The payoff, as in all of his works, is a kind of taboo-breaking theatricality. Snippy types may wonder why the Vineyard has maintained its long commitment to Silver, yet what other American play- wright writes such enjoyably bad plays?

Terry Kinney’s production—imagine A Delicate Balance strung out on amphetamines—grows ponderous with ominous underscoring, and its tableau ending wallows embarrassingly in pseudo-revelation. The cast plunders the material as if it were a novelty chest full of outlandish amusements. George Grizzard, as the self-engrossed patriarch, has the courage to ground the farce in some occasionally unfunny truths, though the play aims mostly for creepy laughs.