By Jane Primerano, Guest Reviewer
Leo Tolstoy famously said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” but the unhappy family in Thinner Than Water is unhappy in many ways.
The play by Melissa Ross, directed by Jeff Knapp, gives us Renee, Gary and Cassandra, three half-siblings who share a mostly absent father whose girlfriend has just informed them he has lung cancer.
Renee, the eldest, played by Lauri MacMillan, seems more upset that Cassie got the call instead of her than by her father’s illness. Cassie sees herself as a disaster in every way, and Gary spends much time smoking either cigarettes or marijuana.
The play as presented by the Chester Theatre Group in the Black River Playhouse is a series of vignettes involving the siblings, Cassie’s on-again off-again boyfriend, Renee’s husband and a woman whose son Gary is looking to mentor as a Big Brother, as well as the girlfriend Gwen, and Gary’s co-worker Benjy.
In the course of the play, we discover just how damaged the three siblings are by their family situation. Their mothers are referred to as “the mean one” (Renee’s), “the fat one” (Gary’s) and “the dead one” (Cassie’s). Renee berates Cassie as a loser and Gary as a pot-smoking failure who lives in a garage. Cassie and Gary try to put on a united front against her but get tangled up in their own anger.
The play is intense, often very funny and at times extremely sad. Gwen, the father’s girlfriend, turns out to be an overly chatty, damaged woman. Henry, Cassie’s (mostly) former Beau, is successful in his work but stumbling in his relationship. Angela, who wants a Big Brother for her 8-year-old son, works herself into a fury over the people who have wronged her. Benjy seems the least damaged of the cast, just a comic-book nerd with a crush on Cassie. Mark is as flawed as the others but seems to be trying and truly to love Renee.
The actors, especially MacMillan and Jason Kruk as Gary, are excellent in their roles. MacMillan maintains a level of anger that looks exhausting. Kruk plays Gary as every sweet, slightly pathetic pot head you went to school with, endearing in his own way, but frustrating.
Gloria Lamoureux as Gwen is as annoying as possible until her last scene with MacMillan. Jessica Phelan is believable as the underachieving Cassie. The other roles are smaller, with Sean Runnette as Mark in only two scenes. He plays him drunk and sober very believably. Matt McCarthy effectively makes one want to smack Henry for saying all the wrong things to Cassie. Jill Bormann comes on a bit too strong as Angela, but is generally effective. Anthony R. Bentrovato is perfect as Benjy, reminding the audience of the manager of every comic book store in America.
The play has more iterations of f*** than a Kevin Smith movie.
Like most productions of CTG, Thinner Than Water is produced sparsely and effectively. It’s worth an outing on a cold winter night.
The production runs through March 1 with 8 p.m. performances. If you’ve never been to the Black River Playhouse before, get their early, parking can be an issue. For more information, the website is www.chestertheatregroup.org.