|L-R: Warren Kelley, John Long, Phil Gillen, and Rachel Botchan in THE PROPERTY. Photo by Hunter Canning/@huntercanning|
The first of Ben Josephson’s seven plays to be produced in New York, The Property is currently premiering at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. Not totally realistic but not entirely impressionistic either, the play seeks to provide insights into the lives of five intimately-related but singularly dysfunctional individuals.
Irene (Rachel Botchan) is the play’s central character. Previously married to Vernon (Sam Tsoutsouvas), an economically successful but flagrantly immoral man, she is currently married to Eddie (Warren Kelley), Vernon’s polar opposite. While Vernon is an unapologetic wealthy beneficiary of our capitalist system, Eddie is a low-paid bookstore employee and would-be Marxist revolutionary. And where Vernon is a highly-sexed, fun-loving, womanizer whose philandering led to his divorce from Irene and his virtual abandonment of their son, Todd (Phil Gillen), Eddie is a faithful husband to Irene and a concerned and well-meaning step-father to Todd – albeit a rather boring and uninspiring man in his own right and one who much prefers to spend his time reading books in the family cottage rather than engaging in more personal contact with other human beings.
But Irene’s divorce and remarriage didn’t just affect Vernon, Eddie and Todd, it changed Irene too: once free-spirited and artistically creative (when married to Vernon), she has since settled for the more stultifying life of a mid-level bank employee. When Greg (John Long), a compassionate school teacher but relatively ineffectual and unsuccessful individual shows up to rent the cottage, the lives of all concerned are up-ended. Vernon, who has been estranged from both Irene and Todd for years, returns to attempt to advise Irene regarding the economic and financial ramifications of her rental of the cottage to Greg and, at Irene’s urging, to try (reluctantly) to assist Todd in establishing his own career path. Greg becomes enamored of Irene and she of him, but not to much avail given their moral scruples. Eddie loses his job – for which he blames what he perceives as a corrupt capitalist system - but he resents the loss of his cottage retreat to Greg even more than he resents the loss of his job and he turns increasingly to drink. Meanwhile Todd’s teenage rebellion, aggravated by Vernon’s initial abandonment and subsequent interference in his life, his lack of respect for Eddie, and his dismay at his mother’s infatuation with Greg, result in his descent into full-fledged heroin addiction.
In a program note, the play’s director, Robert Kalfin wrote:
“The play is not judgmental. Rather it is humanely compassionate and understanding; offering no solutions, just a portrait for reflection.”
Well, you sure could have fooled me. I found the play to be quite judgmental – and justifiably so. The portraits it paints of the five principals virtually cry out for judgment. Should one not be judgmental regarding Vernon’s infidelities and his abandonment of his children? Or of Eddie’s refusal to accept responsibility for his own life? Or of Greg’s reluctance to come to grips with the real world?
In any event, notwithstanding Josephson’s or Kalfin’s intents, the play certainly elicited judgments from me. And I think that’s a good thing.