July 15, 2015

"Of Good Stock" Isn't Quite Good Enough

You can’t say that Of Good Stock doesn’t aim to please. It’s set in a spacious Cape Cod vacation home that’s been appealingly designed and lit by Santo Loquasto and Peter Kaczorowski. Its characters—three sisters and their significant others—are the kind of attractive and witty folks who write cookbooks, enjoy comfortable trust funds and find Montana more exotic than Madagascar. 

Plus their sibling rivalries, relationship woes and unresolved parental issues are the kinds of problems that should hit home for just about anyone who’d find themself in the audience at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Center Stage space, where the show will finish out its run on July 26. 

It's all pleasant stuff and not a bad way to pass a summer evening but as you can probably tell, it didn’t totally please me. And that's because Of Good Stock seems to have a bad case of what my mother used to call being all dressed up with nowhere to go.

As the play opens, Jess Stockton, the eldest sister, and her husband Fred (he’s the food writer) are getting ready to host a weekend for her two younger siblings and the men in their lives at the family vacation home that Jess has recently inherited from her famous-author-but-otherwise-not-so-good-guy father.

It’s a significant weekend because Jess, still recovering from cancer, will be turning 41, a year older than her mother was when she died from the disease. Jess’ middle sister Amy, slated to get married in a few months, arrives in full bridezilla mode, while their baby sister Celia brings a new beau and a couple of secrets.

What follows are the predictable blowups and make ups, spiced up with lots of snappy dialog (some of it heavy on pofanity) crafted by Melissa Ross, a young Juilliard alum whose play Nice Girl got warm reviews earlier this year (click here to read an interview with her).

Under the surehand of MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow, Of Good Stock is expertly performed by a top-notch cast that includes Alicia Silverstone, making her first New York stage appearance in three years as the attention-needy Amy, and the stage stalwart Kelly AuCoin, who is particularly good as the menschy Fred.

But what’s missing from Of Good Stock are insights of any kind. There are hints of something more substantial about the different ways that women reared by a misogynistic father might struggle to create meaningful relationships with men but that script is at least two drafts away from this one.

That may not be entirely Ross' fault. Of Good Stock was pushed into production earlier this year when the play originally planned for this slot was withdrawn because its author Richard Greenberg felt it needed more work. 

A young playwright doesn't have that kind of clout and it's unfair to expect her to turn down an opportunity like this one but Ross' play could have used the extra gestation time too.

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