Long Lost- Elizabeth Ahlfors
Lee Tergesen (Billy) and Kelly AuCoin (David) in Long Lost. Photo by Joan Marcus
Manhattan Theatre Club
MTC City Center Stage I
131 - West 55th Street. NYC
Previews: May 14, 2019. Opening: June 4, 2019. Closing: June 30, 2019
Running Time: 90 min. No intermission.
Cast: Kelly AuCoin, Annie Parisse, Lee Tergesen, and Alex Wolff
Playwright: Donald Margulies
Directed: Dan Sullivan
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors, June 2019
Even with the perceptive cast, sharp staging and creative designs, Donald Margulies' Long Lost, unfortunately, is one of his less satisfying plays. Margulies, winner of multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize, Dinner With Friends, is acclaimed for an acute ear for dialogue and an eye on family ties and the social climate. Long Lost proves all this, but predictability keeps it from the category of credible soap opera or beach read.
It is just before Christmas when, after years of estrangement, two middle-aged brothers reunite. Billy (Lee Tergesen), a recovering addict, convict and manipulator, pops into younger brother, David's (Kelly AuCoin) office, which reeks of success. He drags along his baggage of years filled with resentment and guilt, especially over the tragic death of their parents. Hints are obvious, Billy hoping to convince his brother of his desperate state, trying to finagle money and adding that he also a place to stay.
David, a successful financial consultant, is not falling for it, well aware that Billy is a "chaos machine" whose visit will end in mayhem disruption. He offers a few dollars but does not offer an invitation to his home. He and his wife, Molly (Annie Parisse), live a lush, provitable life. Tonight they are attending a benefit set up by Molly, an ex-lawyer who established a non-profit shelter for women and children. Their 19-year-old son, Jeremy (Alex Wolff), is a Brown University freshman, coming home for the holidays. They do not need Billy's disruption.
As a last shot, Billy desperately blurts out he is dying of cancer.
Next scene. Billy is comfortably settled on a swank sofa in his brother's high-styled immaculate apartment, already littered with empty bags of potato chips and beer cans. David and Molly are at the benefi and Jeremy has not yet arrived from college.
He is alone and lights up a joint when Jeremy walks in. Billy turns on the charm, telling the boy stories of their old times together, none of which Jeremy remembers. Just as he persuades Jeremy to share his weed, David and Molly return from the benefit.
This is the beginning of the unraveling disasters. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, Tergesen's portrayal of Billy is convincing, nuanced with details, a wily drop-out who can't help being likeable, not that we would want him moving in with us. No spoilers here but he collects and retains bits of conversations and observations from the past, interpreting and using them with outrageous lies, to ultimately destroy his brother's career, marriage and life.
As David, AuCoin comes off restrained and desperate to keep his prosperous life intact before it all falls to pieces. Yet he has twinges of guilt ("Am I my brother's keeper?"). His sleek and sophisticated wife, Molly, is portrayed gracefully by Parisse. The world sees an urbane woman with an intact, cleverly planned, intact personal and professional life. She keeps any secrets inside, neatly tucked away.
She is fiercely determined to deny Billy a place in her family. She senses his peril. Hints that appear throughout the play are eventually unraveled throughout the 90-minute production.
Alex Wolff plays the appealing Jeremy, who is wary about the uncle he barely remembers but has heard a lot about. He is confused about his parents' antipathy toward Uncle Billy and his problems. He is bonding with his father but his mother is firm about not using drugs or sex in the house and Jeremy plays by the rules, at least in front of his parents. An odd moment is when, on that first night home, Jeremy jumps in his parents' bed, snuggling between them like a four-year-old, not a teenager in college. This does not ring true.
In a later scene, Jeremy has to face the life-altering changes in his family life. There is also a satisfying, if predictable resolution to his relationship with Uncle Billy.
John Lee Beatty designed sophisticated sets on a roundtable that exhibits David's expensive office and an elegant living room, decorated for the holidays with a stylish Christmas wreath over the mantle. What is apparent are the missing family photographs in either the office or the apartment. One would expect beautifully framed photos of this upscale family and life they are so proud of?
Toni-Leslie James dressed the characters to contribute to the tale. David and Molly would wear these classic and tasteful clothes. Note Molly's eye-popping red designer gown. Jeremy, of course, dresses like any other college kid and Billy is just messy in faded shirt and cargo pants.
With brisk direction by Daniel Sullivan, Margulies' story is easy watching with crisp dialogue, all the pieces in place. At the essence, though, it is style over substance. At least not enough substance to make these Long Lost brothers emotionally intriguing.
This review also appears in TotalTheater.com