Superior acting paints family portrait in 'Beautiful Child'

Beautiful Child By Nicky Silver Who Rarely Done Productions Where CNY Jazz Central 441 East Washington Street, Syracuse When March 1-16 Tickets $20 Age Recommendation Mature audiences Review Katrina Tulloch

The Rarely Done Productions stage manager informed me their company does one controversial show a season. Beautiful Child was it.

Harry (Thomas Minion) and Nan (Anne Fitzgerald) are knee-deep in a fight triggered by Harry’s affair with his secretary when their 30-something son Issac (the bright-eyed Steve Smith) comes home for lunch. He met someone and he might be in love. When Harry and Nan ask who he is, the audience sees this is a family who would have easily accepted their son is gay. But Isaac’s in love with a student – one of his own students at the school where he teaches painting. This student is eight years old.

Isaac wants to hide at home where he’ll be safe. He’s aware he’s in trouble, but sees nothing wrong with his love for this child. At the same time, Delia, Harry’s nagging secretary (Heather Roach) also maintained an active presence, constantly asking Harry to leave Nan for her, to save her as well.

When Nan chided her husband, “Sleeping with your secretary? You’re so cliché, you’re an archetype,” I worried these characters were in danger of the same fate. The play predictably unpacked heartbreak and guilt of a pedophile’s parents. Through the first act, the characters dutifully trotted through denial, anger and blaming each other, themselves, all while nursing glasses of scotch.

But by the second act, I realized my mistake. This wasn’t the fault of the actors. Not one of them broke character or delivered lines poorly. It was the writing. Nicky Silver’s lines either garnered uproarious laughter from the audience members or left us cringing in our squeaky seats. It was too literal, too heavy- handed, trying to force comedy and drama into one linear story.

In one textbook foreshadowing scene, Isaac and Harry reminisced about a fishing trip when Isaac was seven. They had to kill a sand shark they caught or it would eat all the other fish. Harry hit the shark’s head so hard its eyes popped right out.

The blunt literalism went off the deep end when the Nan and Harry revealed their plan to save their son: Isaac must never see a child again. In an Oedipal twist, they settled on how to save him.

In his opening monologue, Isaac describes a dream in which he’s famous and loved as a painter. My name became an adjective, he said. The name Isaac as the sacrificial son was appropriate enough, but there’s no payoff. No thumbs up from God. Harry and Nan must convince themselves they did the right thing, using a vague moral code as their North Star. No one gets saved.

As Harry, Minion more than understood the importance the need to listen and react. His pacing was spot-on and he startled me a few times with ferocious bellows about his own abusive father. He made the black box theatre vibrate when he lashed out at Nan, Isaac, Delia and the psychologist.

Although the flat-voiced Roach prattles on about her fears and insecurities, she’s the only one who realizes she doesn’t need to be saved, once she sees how Harry “saves” his son. There’s a quiet power in the way she questions every character’s decision and leaves of her own free will.

Theresa Constantine shined as both the family’s therapist, the Brooklyn mother of another young boy whom Isaac loved, and a fairy godmother of sorts to Delia. She played her full range of characters with a seasoned smirk and delivered some of the most poignant lines of the play, including the play’s core message, “There is nobody coming to save you.”

But it was Fitzgerald’s Nan who carried the show. She entered as sexy, confident and chatty and slowly came apart in flakes. Fitzgerald successfully grew older and tired as the play progressed. She asked no one to save her, and no one did. Her burden was the most painful to watch.

As soon as the play was over, a man leaned over to his friend and asked for some clarification on the ending, "Did they really do that to him?" His buddy shrugged. “Disturbing,” he replied.