A widowed father in his late 50s lies in bed on a morphine drip, his body rife with cancer. Beside him is his thirty-something gay son, who has traveled to his childhood home in this small town in Kansas for what he knows will be his father’s final days. Through choking gasps, the brusque father utters his last words: “You brought shame to my family. I wish you were never born.”
In the stillness of the moment, the emotion hits like a defibrillator shock. And there are more heart-jolts where that came from in As We Are, the haunting and quietly moving new play from Larry E. Blossom.
The gay son, Vince (the strapping and stoic Roger Nawrocki), is now a psychologist living in DC with a man he loves. Vince has two younger siblings who each grew up in his shadow damaged in different ways. Both have arrived for what becomes an all-out dredge-up of family pain: Mallory (the stricken and poignant Rachel Caywood), became an unwed mother as a teen, forbidden to have the abortion she desperately wanted by her dominating dad, who was stewing in humiliation because his football-hero elder son turned out to be homo. The younger son, Asher (the animated and very promising Patrick Joy), is a strident and petulant surfer dude, ostentatiously het, with a wife and kid and a serious drinking problem. At one point Asher drunkenly taunts Vince: “Do you know how many women I’ve had sex with to prove I’m not like you?”
Both blame Vince—Asher vehemently, Mallory sorrowfully—for torments they experienced after the point in their youth when their big brother was caught having sex with another boy. Before then, admiring fans called Vince “Twinkletoes,” for his swift skills on the football field. After Vince was discovered in flagrante, and immediately attacked violently by the boy’s outraged dad, the nickname became a derisive slur.
Turns out there’s lots more to unpack about Vince’s inadvertent outing, and As We Are does so with an ineluctable assurance of playwriting craft that is reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill’s rendering of family secrets imploding.
We first meet the raging patriarch, Big Bruce (Peter Markey, whose dramatic range and depth are impressive), as a grief-stuck husband holding on to his beloved wife, Peg (the sensitive and sympathetic Suzanne Knapik), as she dies in his arms. Flash forward two years to the present, Big Bruce himself is now near death, cared for by an in-home hospice attendant named Sancia (the smartly spirited Isadora Sasser). As the story unfolds, we also meet a homophobic and closeted cleric, Pastor Ward (Ned Read); another bullheaded patriarch, Vince’s former Coach (George Tamerlani); and Coach’s haplessly married-with-children son Bryan (Christopher Harris), who was the year-younger boy young Vince had sex with.
Co-Directors Blossom and Knapik do a creditable job staging this auspicious script. The pace overall seemed at times more plodding than evocative, some moments acted awkwardly, but the payoffs throughout—especially at the explosive end—are well worth investing one’s time and attention…along with one’s own pained memories of family wounds.
Running Time: About one hour and 35 minutes, with no intermission.
As We Are plays through July 27, 2014, at Mountain – Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.
2014 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘As We Are’ by Emily Sucher.