In a deceased uncle’s shed, his family sorts through dozens of sealed plastic crates containing more than ordinary accumulated junk. Labeled with the names of the famous and influential—John Wayne, Soupy Sales, Ronald Reagan, Walt Whitman—the boxes hold a curated selection of novelty items, such as chunks of the Berlin Wall or a Ouiji board. Together, the collection forms a repository of cultural and family memories: some warm, most bittersweet. The uncle’s survivors must now decide what to discard from their history before selling the house for next to nothing.
Our Lot, a new play by Kristin Newbom and David Hancock, premiering in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks series, resonates with personal and national disenchantments, themes amplified by the presence of injured Iraq vet Toby (Nathan Hinton), a newcomer to the unhappy clan.
As this pain-fueled group excavates, Newbom and Hancock have them roam through their own pasts, too, engaging in a kind of dramatic archeology of a tribe nearing extinction. Each box fills in a little more of the scenario before us, revealing what happened to the brain-damaged Stig (Paul Neibanck), and how his sisters Kathy (Joanna P. Adler) and Alice (Mariann Mayberry) coped when their mother walked out.
Hancock has devised far more radical dramaturgies before, in plays like the object-based The Race of the Ark Tattoo—which I’d count among the most inventive and stirring contemporary American dramas. Our Lot, however, remains confined to standard memory-play territory, without much action—other than dragging boxes around the stage—to structure the characters’ meandering thoughts. Director May Adrales’s undercooked production doesn’t help. It never quite finds a pitch and rhythm to make the dense dialogue listenable, and the script seems to call for a more fluid naturalism to unlock both the characters and then the crates. Still, Our Lot’s poignant premise makes me wonder if a nuanced American play might lie packed away somewhere in one of those containers.