You shouldn’t cry over spilled milk, but characters do in Blood From a Stone, Tommy Nohilly’s violent family drama staged by Scott Elliott for the New Group. Actually, dribbled dairy is the least of the property damage occurring over three days in a decrepit Connecticut household. Ceiling tiles collapse, windows break, a door buckles, a pick-up rams a porch, a Christmas tree endures tremendous abuse, and a housecat perishes. That titular blood also appears.
In what feels like a largely autobiographical work, Nohilly, a first-time playwright, centers his script on eldest brother Travis (Ethan Hawke), a feckless Army vet and painkiller addict lighting out for California. Yet even as he intends to leave, he finds himself drawn into tensions among his brutal father (Gordon Clapp), despondent mother (Ann Dowd), criminal brother (Thomas Guiry), exhausted sister (Natasha Lyonne), and discontented ex-girlfriend (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Stranding this many unhappy people in a house together indicates that Nohilly owes more than the Connecticut setting to O’Neill.
Which is not to say that Nohilly ranks with that earlier writer. He excels at communicating people’s pain through visceral, profane, and often repulsive language, yet his lack of structure would give a dramaturg fits, and his desire to pile on personal tragedy turns his naturalism perilously toward comic absurdism. (I started keeping a mental tally of damaged furnishings; the critic behind me delighted in toting up the cries of “Fuck you, asshole!”) This is just the sort of lower-middle-class morass that Elliott has made his own in previous New Group works such as Abigail’s Party and Rafta, Rafta. Elliott’s enthusiastic direction aside, it’s Hawke who makes all of this suffering sufferable. Underplaying Travis’s anguish, he sparks sympathy for his plight. Now if he’d only consent to share that Vicodin stash.