If an individual is to be saved, a family must be destroyed. That, anyway, is the logic of Carole Gaunt’s Dance of the Seven-Headed Mouse, currently up at the Beckett Theatre.
The fun begins when a happy Fifth Avenue family abruptly loses Molly, its eldest daughter, in a mysterious accident. The fallout is immediate: Father Kevin (Joseph Adams) buries himself in office work; mother Elly (Laura Bonarrigo) drowns herself in booze and pills. Fearing for her family, younger daughter Avril (Lauren Currie Lewis) returns from boarding school in an attempt to coax her mother out of depression. This rescue effort—and the teary confrontations that arise from it—is the main focus of the play.
Christopher McElroen’s production is as straightforward as the plot. Action occurs in the family’s Pottery Barn–worthy apartment, a space whose empty rooms suggest absence—of Molly, but also love, warmth, and most other things basic to family life. The lighting—offstage beams that pierce through the apartment’s windows—might symbolize the promise that awaits Elly and Avril if they could only overcome their grief and rejoin the outside world.
Which is where Dance gets brutal. It seems that, in order for Avril to escape from the wreckage of her home life unscathed, she will have to abandon all hope of saving her mother from an increasingly crippling addiction. The play ends with Avril returning to boarding school, her rescue attempt a dud. This leaves the mother to wallow in pain and memories—indefinitely?
As the play’s center, Elly is underdeveloped, or rather a key period of her development is missing: her transformation from a successful mother into a pill-guzzling mess. How and why this would happen to an otherwise strong woman are the most interesting problems of the whole piece, but they are left unexplored by both script and actors.
Perhaps the brief interludes in the play in which Elly watches a “Young Dancer” (Maya Simkowitz) dance to the tunes of the Nutcracker are meant to shed light on the ailing woman’s psychology. These scenes, though, go down as quiet as a mouse, seven-headed or no.